Whispering from the dust

As comments go this is a rather belated one, but PA decisions are not up to warp speed either; anyway, the decision is there, timely and adequate. The issue? Some years ago I wrote about the absences in Mormon weddings, zooming in on the visual image of weeping moms at the temple steps. Just picture being the parent of a youngster who just joined the Mormon church and now is married in that large and alluring building, the temple, while you yourself cannot enter and have to miss out on the ‘most beautiful day’ in your daughter’s life. We, in Europe, did not have this problem, since we have a mandatory civil wedding, which has all the trappings of a proper wedding ceremony, and for us the temple sealing is an almost private, in-house ritual that caps the wedding day, or a spiritual high point some days later. Of course, also in the International Church non-member parents of a bridal couple cannot enter the temple, but it is simply not a problem: all concerned are part of the civil ceremony and very present in the reception or dinner afterwards, so they do not have the impression that they miss out on something. The problem lied with the Domestic Church, which laboured under the official rule that a couple had to wait for a year between any civil marriage and the temple sealing. The rationale was that if a temple is present, and if the state acknowledges temple sealing as a legal marriage, a couple should marry in the temple straight away; if not, they were thought to show disrespect for the temple ordinances.

Then came the General Conference of April, which did away with the ‘Policy On eXclusion’, but we had to wait for the marriage issue a little longer. Not in the conference, but just in a First Presidency letter of the 6th of May, the waiting rule was abolished as well: also in the States, and in any other country which acknowledged church weddings as legal, a couple can have a civil marriage first and then go to the temple for the sealing, and not be punished. So congratulations, American Saints, you have now the same prerogatives as the rest of the world! The whole notion of disrespect has vanished; that was just in the eyes of the beholder, I guess, the letter does not mention it. Of course, the focus on the temple does not diminish, as the letter makes perfectly clear, but our argument at the time was that having a civil union first, in fact highlights the religious and covenantal aspects of the sealing. And, my other point holds as well: the format of the sealing as a ritual, is not well suited for a wedding, much more geared at sealing a pre-existing union.

How did this change come about? Well, there has been pressure from the membership, but a special action was a large scale petition originating from Canada asking for exactly this, plus there have been press coverages of, indeed, the ‘weeping moms at the temple staircase’. Public relations wise the waiting rule was a publicity nightmare, for outsiders an absolute proof of the church being a sect, for members an awkward aspect of their membership vis à vis any non-LDS family. So, there have been some ‘whisperings from the dust’ to use another analogue – my rooster wakeup call analogy did not work really well, I guess. Anyway, this is another instance of revelation from below, not as fierce as the PoX one, but appreciated nonetheless.

The conclusion has to be that whatever the official discourse on revelation, revelation comes from two directions, from above and below, and in my view that is a good thing. Throughout the Scriptures we see God listening to his people, and so the church should be led from two directions, both from the official functionaries ‘on high’, and the members themselves: we are the church together, and we have to co-rule the kingdom, from below to above and back again to us. That means we have an obligation to work together in unity, but in our unity to be critical to our leadership, following them with a keen eye for mistakes, errors, even sometimes blunders like the POX. We have to be small voices from below, whispering from the dust all the while keeping a close tab on the world and thus informing our leadership. After all, we as members do have the advantage to be both in the world and beyond it, so the fine tuning of the church to the changing world will for a considerable part on our shoulders. Inspiration follows information, and we have the duty to inform our leaders; church culture does not make that easy, but both decisions show it can be done.

A final thought on the marriage issue itself. One ritual absence remains, I think. The FP letter states that bishops are authorized to use the church, meaning also chapel, for weddings, but advise some restraint in the ritual procedures: not too much, not to extravagant, and certainly not costly. Good thinking, at least in the eyes of this frugal Dutchman. But what is still missing is a ritual format for a wedding-in-the-chapel: some elements to include, some suggestions for the ceremony, the involvement of the congregation in the procedure, what symbols to use: rings, flowers, music, vows, songs, witnesses, and verbal formulas: no hints, no general format of the ceremony. The bishops are still ‘swimming free’. Doing away with the waiting year does bring the chapel wedding into focus, since now it can be part of the official pathway towards a marital union, and, like I argued in the former blog, highlights a ritual at the heart of the wedding. We saw how Joseph was ever busy generating rituals, all of which have been streamlined since. The remaining challenge for our present leadership is to step in those particular footsteps of Joseph and come up with directions for bishops on how to perform weddings; we have formats for all rituals, so why not this one? In that way, the second absence in Mormon weddings could be filled in. I will wait and see, and keep whispering.

Walter van Beek

29 comments for “Whispering from the dust

  1. From the point of view of the bishop performing the marriage in the chapel (which I have done), I don’t want any more instruction. Within not too much, not too extravagant, I would find plenty of room to manage what feels right and good. More instruction would almost certainly constrain me.

    And from the point of view of a parent of the marrying couple, or (of course!) the couple themselves, now I have to not assume anything, talk with the bishop about what he will and won’t allow, and maybe go forum shopping. Not ideal. But weighed against the likelihood that a rule book would tell me things I don’t want to hear, and the near certainty that a rule book would tell me or my friend or my neighbor things we don’t want to hear, I think the current lottery is the lesser of the problems or risks.

    In writing this, I envision rules being written from the constraining and prohibiting starting point with a “temple first if possible” mindset. If I believed the effort would be to reinvigorate marriage as a public community celebration, then I might be interested. But frankly that would be a different church than the one I see today.

  2. As a former bishop, I like the change. For me, when I performed weddings (or ring ceremonies) I made sure it was what the couple wanted, including in the chapel, walking down the aisle, flowers music, decorations, PHOTOS AND vows; sickness & health etc. The couple & the nonmembers really appreciated it. My daughter told me she was so glad for it as she wouldn’t have part in most marriages around us. After performing a wedding a young woman told me that she wished I had performed her wedding. Her stake president did it and she thought he was rude to them during the wedding, scolding them for not going to the temple first. She also said her husband will now not go to the church at all. I recently saw a ring ceremony performed in the gym, instead of the chapel as the leader wouldn’t allow photos in the chapel. As if wedding photos makes the chapel unclean (and yes I know the policy on photos.). None of these types of things makes nonmembers, or the less active friendly to the church. In this age of church contraction, I’m not surprised that the church is changing some of it policies to make it more enjoyable for members & nonmembers alike. I expect & hope to see more in the future.
    On a slightly skewed subject, I’ve seen people prohibited from taking baptism photos. I can’t think of a more wonderful way to reflect on a baptism than for a child or adult to see their father relative, friend or missionary baptizing them. Thanks for listening & sorry for the long note.

  3. I feel that you are somehow belittling the faith of those North Americans who have faithfully been married in the temple, despite the fact that it is somehow missing “all the trappings of a proper wedding ceremony.” Shame on you. Their faith in following this direction should be an example to others. When I lived in England I heard far too many “good Latter-day Saints” loudly proclaim that they would leave the Church before excluding their friends from their wedding (no mention of family was made). Obviously they chose their friends over the Lord. My hat continues to be off to those who have made the hard decision.

  4. I got as far as “Policy On eXclusion” and immediately lost all interest in this discussion. Believe me, I tried to set it aside and focus on the points being made, but all I could continue to think is that Walter van Beek has a sense of moral superiority that bleeds through into these types of discussions. So while there are some potential nuggets of interesting thought (e.g. the sealing ordinance as a confirmation or affirmation of an existing relationship), I just couldn’t digest it because the discussion was poisoned early on.

    The world needs more thoughtful and respectful discussion and less divisive rhetoric.

  5. I think the point is that sacrificing to follow a rule that can be changed is the church making life difficult for members needlessly. There is not a gospel principle called sacrifice, the Lord doesn’t reward that. I was in India recently. The average US wedding costs $29,000, the average Indian wedding in the US costs $65,000, does the Lord reward these Indians for making this sacrafice?
    One of my daughters converted her husband, and so as to include his family we had a garden wedding, after the couple were sealed in the temple 1000k from where we live.(our closest temple at the time) As far as his family are concerned they attended his wedding.
    Walter you may have more influence than you realise?

    My wife and I are close to a member of our stake presidency, so were invited to their daughters wedding, the couple are very loving, the families each welcoming of the wedding. They were married for time and eternity by a marriage celebrant. Who knows what the Lord thinks? Will the marriage last longer or be less happy than a Utah temple marriage?

  6. Thank you very much for the comments.
    Christian and RCJ: you may well be right that in this case it is not a good idea to ask for more directions on how to conduct the chapel wedding. I underestimated the input of the bridal couple who have often definite ideas on what they want, and having them co-script the wedding proceedings is an excellent starting point. So I shall no longer clamor for ritual formats. The main issue now seems to be to have the change interiorized by the lay leadership, like the stake president RCJ tells about; we still have a problem that the lower echelons sometimes tend to be stricter than the higher ones, the old Holier than Thou syndrome.
    Dsc, I think no one has moral superiority, we all have the light of Christ plus the gift of the Spirit; GA authority is primarily doctrinal and ecclesiastical, soemtimes moral, but nobody is infallible. Also the ‘dust’ can be wrong. If mentioning the Pox put you off, sorry for that; the two changes have little to do with each other, but followed each other closely in time. I am afraid the PoX will keep haunting our leaders for some time to come, but I will henceforth refrain from doing that myself. Anyway, this is a laudatory post, not a divisive one.
    Travelled: I have lots of respect for those who endured faithfully, and followed the rules, but the point is that some hard choices simply were not really needed.
    Geoff, thanks for pointing out that some sacrifices are worthwhile, while others are simply expenditure. Our challenge is to decide which is which, or maybe to turn the latter into the former. By the way, I witnessed an Indian wedding in South Africa which mainly was a showcase of immense wealth, a competition of ‘conspicuous giving’ between the two families, a kind of potlatch in which the bridal couple, quite young, almost disappeared. Interesting for me as an anthropologist, but also an example of ‘culture against man’. A thing to avoid.
    Your last point is crucial, of course: the real thing is the marriage and not the wedding. Our real challenge is to make the marriage work.

  7. Walter, you keep doing it. When you use the term “Pox”, you sound smug and arrogant. It’s not that you mention the policy on children of same sex couples, it’s that you use divisive language to do so.

  8. Walter, what a fascinating take on “whispering from the dust”. I have been using Clayton Christensen’s term “disruptive innovation” for grass roots revelation, but your scriptural phrase is a better fit, IMO.

    Dsc, “The world needs more thoughtful and respectful discussion and less divisive rhetoric.” Whatever you wish to call it, the policy is gone and the suddenness of the reversal makes it difficult to argue that it was anything but a failure. That, in turn, suggests that the policy was itself the divisive rhetoric that the world needs less of.

  9. “the suddenness of the reversal makes it difficult to argue that it was anything but a failure”

    As I’m studying Peter’s vision of the sheet and its implications for preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, I’m reminded of Jesus’ admonition to the apostles to NOT preach to the Gentiles or Samaritans. That policy lasted less time than the policy on children of same-sex couples. Also a failure? What about the almost identical policy for children of polygamist couples? Or was that successful because it lasted longer? Was it divisive?

  10. “Peter’s vision of the sheet … Jesus’ admonition to the apostles to NOT preach to the Gentiles or Samaritans.” Between Jesus’s teaching and Peter’s vision, Jesus was resurrected. That provided justification for major shifts in religious practice, and doctrinal understanding of those practices. I’m not aware of anything quite that religiously earth-shaking between 2015-2019 to justify a change in the policy in question.

    “That policy lasted less time than the policy on children of same-sex couples.” I’m curious where you get a sense of timing in Acts. Working backwards, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) was ca. AD 50, putting it 15-20 years after the resurrection. Paul was converted (Acts 9) maybe 1-5 years after the resurrection. So I’d estimate that Cornelius was baptized (Acts 10) 5-15 years after Jesus’ resurrection. But that’s a whole lot of guess work.

    “What about the almost identical policy for children of polygamist couples?” It’s my understanding that that policy was implemented to counteract a practice of some polygamous sects to secretly infiltrate the church in order to gain access to temple ordinances, and was successful in ending that infiltration. I’m not aware of any analogous LGBT strategems. There’s also the obvious difference that the Church recognizes polygamy is 100% culturally transmitted, whereas it recognizes that sexual orientation is not.

  11. The Little Commission recorded in Matthew 10 was about a year before the resurrection. The Great Commission came shortly after the resurrection. (Peter’s vision came some time after that, but the instruction to preach to all nations had already been given; Peter’s vision brought clarification). I agree that the resurrection is a significant event, and I can make some speculation as to why the commission was more limited until after the resurrection, but that’s all it would be: speculation. No reason for the change is ever given, and the fact that something significant happened does not itself justify a change. There has to be some connection between the significant event and the change. It is a cop out to simply say that things were different if one requires a logical explanation.

    To be honest, my speculation only leads me to weak connections, but the best I can come up with is that the Apostles were more prepared and conditions were different in some unspecified way. I don’t see why those same reasons couldn’t be at work today: conditions changed and the Church was better prepared to implement a different policy. Again, I can only speculate as to those reasons, but I actually have a clearer picture in my head of the rationale for the reversal on children of same-sex marriages than I have for the reversal on preaching to the Samaritans.

    I’m not sure what kind of “infiltration” you imagine by polygamists, but what you’re describing sounds a lot like people with beliefs and practices contrary to the Church’s attempting to merely attend the temple. The Church evidently felt a need to make it absolutely clear that those beliefs and practices constituted apostasy. Well, shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, there were a number of bishops and stake presidents open to marrying same sex couples. This policy was probably intended to communicate clearly that the Church remains opposed to such marriages as a matter of doctrine. The policy seems to have been effective in communicating that. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that reversal of that policy also came shortly after changes to the temple ritual that clarified marital relationships.

  12. This whole post comes across as a victory lap by a couch potato who thinks that screaming at the TV made his favorite Olympian run faster. That the victory lap is taken months after the race is especially fun.

  13. Also, I’m not sure why you are comparing polygamy and sexual orientation. One involves formal relationships (marriage) while the other involves innate proclivities. The tendency of most men to desire multiple sexual partners is innate, and same sex marriage (like all marriage) is culturally transmitted.

  14. Sorry, Dsc, I reject your claim that the resurrection of Jesus was unconnected to the development of Christianity in the decades following. The atonement is not a cop out. It was the central motivation for Christianity to develop separately from Judaism. Paul repeatedly argues that salvation is universally available apart from the law due to Jesus’s sacrifice.

    “This policy was probably intended …” I hope you’ll understand if I don’t give your speculation more weight than Elder Christofferson’s explanation. He doesn’t say anything about bishops wanting to perform gay marriage, and that wouldn’t explain why children were excluded from ordinances by the policy.

  15. Of course the Atonement is related to preaching the Gospel. But that doesn’t explain the prior prohibition. Jesus was already preaching the insufficiency of the law prior to the resurrection. Why could this not be preached to the Samaritans? Again, I have my pet theories, but I assume that I won’t really understand in this life.

    You don’t think it’s possible for a policy to have several motivations; some stated and some not?

  16. I wouldn’t be too quick and sure about assuming this policy change came as a result of agitation and concerted pressure from Latter-day Saints in Canada, or anywhere else. That’s not how revelation works. I’m much more inclined to believe that with members of the Twelve from Germany and Brazil, they added their perspective on the matter in the Church’s leading councils, and the change followed without much fuss.

    Even if my guess is wrong, nothing is gained by saying things like, “So congratulations, American Saints, you have now the same prerogatives as the rest of the world!” Gloating doesn’t comport with the meekness a follower of Christ should exemplify.

  17. Traveled Widely, so, so many people who made the “sacrifice” of excluding nonmember family members from their weddings regret it deeply. Many families were damaged beyond repair by this practice. I grew up without two of my grandparents in my life because of it, and I see their hurt from being excluded as perfectly justified. If my son went off and joined a weird religion and then barred me from his wedding, I might take decades to forgive him too. Just like the priesthood ban, this was a mistake from the day it began and always ran contrary to our core beliefs of family and preaching the good news. The shallow and worldly will always find ways to cheapen ordinances (in this case by turning marriage into an exercise in conspicuous consumption). I’m glad we’ve stopped sacrificing the family relationships of the righteous in an attempt to reign in those wayward souls who were not dissuaded from their worldliness by this policy anyway.

  18. Much of the discussion is about tone and innuendo, and most of us are indeed glad that this particular policy has been changed, like the other policy which I will not mention any longer. Whether the apostles from beyond Deseret have been an influence in this, or the public reaction and negative publicity, and the internal reactions such as the petition were crucial, I really do not know; probably a combination of all these. I do think the leaders are more conducive to signals from isnide the church than from the outside, but the Public Affairs is important as well. We have seen a general move towards respectability, towards what Douglas Davies called ‘the nicing of Mormonism’ and this change does fit inside this trend. I am intrigued by the reference to the temple changes, never thought of that. I have to think about it.
    In the end this is a discussion on the nature of revelation: I sincerely believe in revelation, but I see in almost all examples, also that of Peter and his food, an interaction between ‘on high’ and ‘down below’: pondering, asking, receiving. and the pondering for a large part is just listening to others and having a keen eye for the tides and times of the day.
    My congratulations to the American Saints were meant to be tongue-in-cheek, of course, we are all in the same vessel on the same course.

  19. I joined the church at 18, served a mission at 19, got sealed at 22 — none of which made my family happy but they weren’t so un-Christlike that they held a grudge and remained estranged. If anything my mother complimented me on my children, their upbringing, and the positive influences of the church. Why would anyone let absence from a 20 minute wedding ceremony drive a wedge between them and their children (especially grandchildren) or extended family? Even if the “rule” had been changed 37 years ago, I don’t think I would have approached my sealing any differently. When we got back from traveling out west to the temple we had a great reception, and all my non-member family participated. If I were to base my life strictly on what family thinks, I wouldn’t have joined the church in the first place much less served a mission. The decision to join the church, serve a mission and get sealed had nothing to do with sacrifice as far as I’m concerned. I think we”ve allowed western notions of Princess Di type weddings to creep into our culture, and have romanticized marriage ceremonies far beyond what they really are. I know marraige is ordained of God. I don’t know that marriage ceremonies per se are. I am a civil servant, and am closing in on having officiated about 3,500 wedding ceremonies. (And yes, that includes SSM’s) Although there is the occasional big wedding with “all the trappings,” most are not that way at all. They are simple ceremonies where an explanation of obligations is given and consent is ascertained. Not much more or longer than a civil service done by a bishop per the Handbook. As to why the rule was changed, I think church leaders see the secularization of America coming. Someone is going to argue that when a religous leader obtains permission from the state to perform weddings (Bishop, Sealer) he is wearing a state hat, and therefore can not discriminate. I think leaders anticipate the day when religious authorities will not be able to perform civil marriages on behalf of the state unless they agree to do all weddings. Plus, I think they’re curious whether people will choose a temple sealing over a civil ceremony for the sake of family/friends.

  20. IDIAT, “As to why the rule was changed, I think church leaders see the secularization of America coming.” This strikes me as a particular fear-based speculation. Is that how you intended it? I prefer to think our leaders made this change to support families by providing flexibility in celebrating marriage, while trusting that members will continue to value the sealing ordinance.

  21. I would only see it as pragmatic if the speculative future it is responding to develops. And since I do not think we will see the day that religious leaders operate under the same requirements as civil servants (religious freedom is just too ingrained in the US), painting the recent changes in temple sealings as a response to some unmaterialized apocalypse associates the changes with a fear of that secularization.

    On the other hand, it is not hard to identify compassionate justifications for the recent policy changes—reasons that don’t require a haunting vision of the future (e.g. the weeping mom in the OP). In the absence of other evidence, I prefer to think of our leaders as compassionate rather than overreacting to situations that haven’t even developed.

  22. GEOFF -AUS “There is not a gospel principle called sacrifice, the Lord doesn’t reward that.”

    I trust that as soon as you had hit the button to post this you realized that one of the most important gospel principles *is* sacrifice, in particular, the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

    Walter van Beek writes “I am afraid the PoX will keep haunting our leaders for some time to come…”

    Unlikely. Instead, it haunts bloggers.

    IDIAT writes “If I were to base my life strictly on what family thinks, I wouldn’t have joined the church in the first place much less served a mission.”

    Exactly so. I am the only member of the church in my extended family. They did not attend my wedding and I did not impose upon them the burden of invitation. Scripture says a man leaves his mother and father and cleaves unto his wife. Father and mother are still honored.

  23. Dsc:

    Unfortunately we may never know for sure why Christ didn’t preach to the Gentiles. We can’t ask him because He’s not here. All we know is he often broke in his own rule by preaching to the woman at the well, blessing the woman begging for the scraps that fall from the table, and proclaiming the parable of the Good Samaritan. But. The people that both implemented and rescinded the policy on children of same-sex married couples ARE with us. We can ask them; but will they tell us?

    You go on to say: “Well, shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, there were a number of bishops and stake presidents open to marrying same sex couples. This policy was probably intended to communicate clearly that the Church remains opposed to such marriages as a matter of doctrine. The policy seems to have been effective in communicating that. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that reversal of that policy also came shortly after changes to the temple ritual that clarified marital relationships.”

    To your first sentence, rightly so. Bishops and Stake Presidents can marry people. Where’s the beef? As to the remaining sentences, sure. I think there are a lot of consequences to acting in this manner, however. Why couldn’t the leadership simply come out and say “Our doctrine still does not recognize same-sex marriages in the temple” without involving the kids? Again, I should probably direct this question to Church leadership and not to you. But will they answer?

  24. No Chadwick they don’t answer questions. I didn’t notice the change to the definition of marriage in the endowment. Is it the definition of chastity?

    Michael , No I did not regret saying that there is not a gospel principle called sacrifice. Your quote says sacrificing a broken heart , a specific thing to sacrafice. How about the example I gave of spending rediculous amount on a wedding that is a big sacrifice for the family, how about sacrificing your children. Sacrifice is not a gospel principle. Likewise there is no gospel principle called obedience. There are times when it is apropriate to be obedient, and others when not, the same applies to sacrificing, sometimes good sometimes not. If someone tells you to jump off a cliff, do you consider it a test of your obedience, especially as it is a sacrifice?

    It does require some thought to understand this, perhaps you could try.

  25. I am a little puzzled about sacrifice not being a gospel principle; I remember a ‘law of sacrifice’ somewhere inside an ordination… Sacrifice is the heart of Christ’s redemption, the bread and wine replace an earlier covenant with the sacrifice of a lamb, the whole gospel history is shot through with sacrifices, from Abraham onwards. The point is of course, what sacrifice and especially to whom; there are useless sacrifices–and a superexpensive wedding would rank high there–and there are sacrifices in the right place, time and manner. Our broken heart is only a worthy sacrifice if offered to the Lord, it is the cause that matters. Obedience, indeed, has the same ambivalence, depending as it does on the cause; even stronger so, since obedience has the additional problem that our first assignment here on earth is to exercise our free agency. We have to choose our sacrifices, and choose wisely. And be very reticent with obedience.
    Anyway, marriage is ordained, weddings are not, I fully agree. I do prefer to see our leaders as compassionate, but still pragmatic, but they are very much aware of the membership losses that the ‘unmentionable policy’ has caused. Yes, it may fade away, and so will the bloggers. But if our blogs have helped our leaders towards these policy changes, so much the better.

  26. Chadwick,

    “But will they answer?” Yes. They have. Elder Christofferson gave a pretty thorough explanation shortly after the policy was first implemented. I believe there were other reasons beyond what he stated, but your criticism that the Church doesn’t respond is ill-founded. With respect to the temple, my comment was in response to Ryan’s attempt to differentiate the policies on children of polygamous and same-sex marriages.


    Your attitude seems similar to the belief by a baseball fan that a late-inning home run was caused by his rally cap (thoroughly American reference, I know, but you can look it up).

  27. Dsc: I sincerely hope that my basebal cap did influence the game; after all Mormonsims has been well characterized as the gospel of hope, and that holds inside the church as well. We are on the same track, after all.

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