Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Being excluded from a Mormon temple wedding

Mormon Temple in Philadelphia
One of four sealing rooms in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple, in which couples and families will be “sealed” to each other so that they may live together in the afterlife. Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

A guest post by Mette Harrison

Since being endowed in 1990 before my own temple wedding, I’ve never had the experience before now of sitting outside the temple during the marriage ceremony of a loved one, until this past month for my niece’s.

I’ll admit that I was nervous. I’d heard others who have stepped a bit away from Mormonism discuss how painful it was not to be a part of the sealing ceremony. They felt judgment from those who were “allowed” inside as opposed to those who were deemed “unworthy,” and sit outside.

How did it go?

I will say from the outset that I wasn’t in any particular emotional pain. I read a book on my phone (perhaps appropriately for a wedding, a romance novel), and was perfectly happy to pass the hour that way. My life is often so busy that I don’t treat myself to the things that I most enjoy, and reading is one of them. So instead of thinking about being left out of the temple wedding, I simply focused on my self-care hour and felt good about my own spirituality, which has increased my belief in the value of knowing myself well and honoring my own journey.

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t have a temple recommend, it’s none of your business. I’d prepared this answer in advance, in case anyone asked. I didn’t mean to express it rudely, but simply as a way of saying that I wasn’t interested in having a discussion about it.

One of the things I struggle with in Mormonism is the idea that God has special communications with those who perform certain outward (and inward) marks of their devotion. This is not the God I currently believe in, who in a recent prayer gave me the message, “God is a come-as-you-are place.” I could quote scriptures where God showed Themselves to the unworthy, and to those whom society deemed unworthy.

But I also have found that I don’t have much interest in a traditional Mormon idea of authority, either from scripture or from priesthood lineages, so I’ll just say that my personal experience with God has been that the point of religion is to give us a reason to try to be better. It is never to tell us we don’t qualify for the love of God.

But I will say that my temple recommend issues aren’t about Word of Wisdom choices, about adultery, or about anything the Mormon church might consider a “sin.” I choose currently not to have a temple recommend largely because of the November 2015 policy that excluded same-sex married couples and their children from various aspects of church participation. I also have other issues within the church that I’m uncomfortable enough about to mark myself as a dissenter of sorts. A conscientious objector, you might say. I don’t necessarily consider myself to be on the way out of Mormonism (despite what some who have read previous columns of mine might assume), but my boundaries demand a different engagement right now, and that includes not having a temple recommend on terms that other people set.

I’m not angry about this, I don’t think. It’s a choice that allows me to demonstrate moral courage and is a point of conscience, but I also don’t judge Mormons who choose differently.

In the end, though, no one asked me about my choice to wait outside during the temple wedding. Some people looked happy to see me, while others seemed more interested in ignoring me. I certainly understood the discomfort they also felt, not sure what to say or what not to say. I was in that same place not so long ago and understand it very well. There may have been some silent judgment going on, but that’s virtually impossible to avoid and I was grateful no one made the experience more awkward than it had to be.

I was part of the family photo taking. I went to the dinner afterward, where I toasted the bride and groom (with the traditional Mormon wedding drink of . . . water). My father-in-law did come up to me afterward and tell me he was grateful I’d come even though it “must have been painful.” It wasn’t really. I did not feel pain. I felt at peace with my choice and with my current relationship with God.

Do I wish the Mormon church had a different policy about weddings? Maybe. In other countries where civil ceremonies are the law, the church allows couples to marry civilly first and then be sealed in the temple some days later. These couples can therefore enjoy having all their friends and family members witness the civil ceremony—even small children and non-Mormons, who would be barred from an LDS temple wedding. In the United States, however, couples are expected to make the “sacrifice” of not having a fancy wedding with all family members there. If Americans aren’t sealed in the temple from the very beginning, they have to wait an entire year before they are eligible to be married in the temple “for time and eternity.”

There is something wonderful about focusing on the new couple and not the trappings of a large, expensive wedding. There’s also something wonderful, frankly, in the ease of it (you can sometimes book a temple wedding the day of). Also, a temple wedding is remarkably inexpensive—in fact, it costs nothing.

But I have mixed feelings about the insistence on sacrificing family in a church that is supposed to be all about family. I know it can strengthen a young couple’s loyalty to the church, but in later years, I’ve heard many couples regret the cost.

I guess I’ve come to a place where I don’t need to pass loyalty tests. I’m no longer afraid of dipping below other people’s idea of “worthiness.” I’ll go back to reading a book and communicating with God in my own way—in prayers and meditation, walks, in the bath at times, and yes, even at my weekly Mormon church meetings.


Other posts by Mette Harrison:


 

 

 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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