Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Public Feast


            Some three weeks ago, the First Presidency announced a policy change – members of the church who married civilly would no longer need to wait a year before being sealed in a temple. This had been the rule already in most countries (where the authorities do not tolerate secret weddings) but not in the United States. Indeed, church magazines had often run articles praising American couples for the great sacrifice they made by marrying in the temple, even to the exclusion of their non-member relatives.

            Then came the current press release, which features a church spokeswoman from Spain talking about what a blessing it was to be able to marry in the presence of her non-member family and friends and be sealed later that day, and how glad she is that everyone will now be able to enjoy that blessing.

            This has led a lot of Latter-day Saints to question whether the “sacrifice” that they were previously asked to make was really necessary at all. Some simply chalk it up to God requiring different sacrifices of different people at different times, while others refuse to acknowledge that any good at all came from a practice which alienated so many people from the church by excluding them from their children’s weddings.

            Getting to the bottom of the matter requires us to look at what the Prophet Joseph Smith had to say about weddings. The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, published in 1835, had a section (no. 101 at the time) which set forth the Church’s beliefs about marriage. Joseph didn’t write this (the assignment had gone to Oliver Cowdery) but he preached out of it during the Nauvoo years and reaffirmed that it was the only law of marriage recognized in the Church. The relevant passage reads:

According to the custom of all civilized nations, marriage is regulated by laws and ceremonies. Therefore, 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, and that the solemnization should be performed by a presiding high priest, high priest, bishop, elder, or priest-not even prohibiting those persons who are desirous to get married of being married by other authority.

This section is no longer a part of the Doctrine and Covenants; Brigham Young removed it during his presidency, on account of the trouble that another passage was causing for him, namely, the part that reads:

Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife and one woman but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.

Even after polygamy was done away with, secret weddings remained a part of the program, although they were not the norm until the mid-twentieth century, when temples became more widespread and it was easier to get married and sealed at the same time.

Then, the church began penalizing couples who chose to solemnize their marriage “in a public meeting or feast prepared for that purpose.”

No doubt many thousands of people have been left with a bad impression of Mormonism as the religion which made them sit out of their son or daughter’s wedding. And those who have chosen to remain aloof from the gospel for this reason might be reasonably condemned for their hard-heartedness, if the requirement that their child marry in secret had come from God.

But as it turns out, the practice which seems repugnant to these fathers and mothers is one that was rejected by the Prophet Joseph. These people cannot be condemned for rejecting that which Joseph also rejected; therefore, the guilt for their alienation from Mormonism must lay elsewhere.

It was a good move for the leaders of the church to stop penalizing Mormons who choose to marry in public as was required in Joseph’s day. It would be a better move to restore the original law of marriage and to stop permitting secret weddings entirely.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Some Remarks on the Josephites

One of the consequences of belonging to the largest branch of Mormonism is that you can go through life knowing little or nothing ab...