Getting engaged is one of the most exciting times of life. If you are a Mormon with non-Mormon friends or family, however, it can be more than a little complicated. Weddings are one of the most significant events in our lives and we naturally want those we love to be a part of that important day.
Latter-day Saints believe that, if weddings are performed by someone with the appropriate authority, marriage and family can endure beyond death. We call those weddings “sealings” because the husband and wife are “sealed” for time and for eternity and they are only performed in Mormon Temples.
This presents a complicated issue for those with family and friends that cannot go into the temple. Only members of the Church with current temple recommends can attend the actual wedding ceremony.
My Personal Story
When my wife and I got engaged, I knew there would be some difficult decisions. While most of my wife’s family were active Mormons (they held temple recommends and could attend our wedding, that was not the case with my family.
My dad did not have a recommend. That meant he would not be able to come to our wedding. On top of that, none of his side of the family would be able to come.
Deciding to get married in the temple was not difficult for me (I explain why in a minute), but facing the reality that people I love would not be able to be there with me was hard. The thing that made it easier was how understanding my family was when we announced our marriage. Even though they would have liked to be there, they understood how important a temple marriage was to me because of my deeply held beliefs. They supported me and participated in other ways throughout the day.
My wedding day was made even better because of the way my non-Mormon (and less active Mormon) family and friends handled a challenging situation.
Why Mormon’s Get Married in Temples
I have had some people ask how I could choose to get married in a place knowing that my dad–who I love and have a great relationship with–would not be able to attend. That is a fair question. First, let me just say, that the decision to get married in the temple had nothing to do with how much or little I love him.
To understand why a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have to discuss why Mormon’s get married in temples in the first place.
Temple marriages, or sealings, are at the core of LDS teachings. We are taught from the time we are very little to look forward to a temple marriage. It is impossible to understand why members of the Church are so fixated on temple marriages without understanding some basics to LDS teachings.
God’s Plan of Salvation
Latter-day Saints believe that all mankind were spiritually created by God before the creation of the earth. As such, Mormons believe that God is our literal Father in Heaven or Heavenly Father. In that setting, God presented a plan to His spirit-children that would make it possible for them to become like God. That plan is referred to as the Plan of Salvation or the Plan of Happiness.
As a part of that plan, God created the earth through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Eternal families are at the core of the Plan of Salvation. Most civil marriage ceremonies include the famous lines: “Until death do you part.” That idea is not a part of the LDS perspective of marriage. Latter-day Saints believe that marriage is meant to last forever and into the eternities.
M. Russell Ballard said, “It is within the Church that we form the commitments and covenants of eternal families that become our passport to exaltation” (source).
Exaltation, for Latter-day Saints, is made possible through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. Eternal families are the end result of Christ’s work as our Redeemer. President Russell M. Nelson taught,
“With the Lord, families are essential. He created the earth that we could gain physical bodies and form families. He established His Church to exalt families. He provides temples so that families can be together forever” (source).
Having a “forever family” is at the heart of our religious goals as Mormons.
In order for any action on earth to be “sealed” in heaven, the action must be performed by the authority of God’s Priesthood. Peter was told, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19).
The LDS Church’s website explains:
“Families are central to God’s plan for our happiness. In the temple, families can be united forever as husband and wife together with their children. The scriptures call the authority to unite families forever the sealing power. This is the same authority that Jesus gave the Apostle Peter to declare blessings on earth that will continue in heaven.” (source)
The keys of the kingdom refer to the Priesthood or the authority of God. There are individuals called “sealers” in the temples that have been authorized to perform sealings. This is why Mormons feel such a pull to be married in the temple.
Mormon marriages are all performed in a “sealing room” in the temple. These rooms have an altar in the middle. This altar has significant symbolic meaning to Latter-day Saints that is similar to other religious faiths.
In addition to the altar, there are two large mirrors on opposite walls. These also have an important teaching role in the LDS ceremony depicting not only the eternal nature of the ceremony but also, in a more specific sense, the ancestors that have come before and the descendants that will follow. This emphasis on connecting generations has a lot to do with why Latter-day Saints will choose a ceremony that excludes people they love.
The rest of the furniture in the room includes a large chandelier hanging over the altar, three specific chairs for the sealer and the two witnesses, a love seat for the bride and the groom, and then a number of chairs for the wedding guests. The number of chairs varies from room to room and temple to temple. My wife and I were sealed in the Salt Lake City Temple. I believe the room we had seated 50 people and it was one of the larger sealing rooms in that temple.
What is a “Temple Marriage”
So how are temple marriages different from a regular civil ceremony?
When you think of marriage, if you are like me, you probably imagine a father walking his daughter down the aisle to Canon in D. A minister standing at the front of the room. The couple exchanges vows and rings. And, finally, the famous, and long-awaited invitation, “You may kiss the bride.”
In a temple marriage, usually, the bride and the groom enter the sealing room together where their temple-recommend-holding family and friends are already gathered.
The bride and groom sit next to each other while the sealer gives them 10 to 15 minutes of instruction and counsel. This is not scripted and is not a part of the official sealing. The sealer, by the way, is often an older man that is a stranger to the bride, the groom, or both of them.
When the little counsel portion is finished, the sealer invites the couple to the altar where the kneel on opposite sides facing each other. At this point, the sealer performs the sacred, religious ordinance or rite that seals or binds the couple together for time and all eternity.
In that ordinance, the sealer pronounces certain blessings upon the heads of the couple according to their continued faithfulness to Christ and His gospel.
One of the great benefits of eternal temple marriages is its focus on eternity. That longer perspective helped me have more patience with the challenges that I believe every marriage faces. Check out this article t0 learn more about how long temple marriages last compared to a national average.
Secret or Sacred
I have friends and family that have asked me why our weddings are so “secret.” I think that is a fair question. Anything that is outwardly exclusive like the LDS temple ordinances, comes off as secret or, worse, like we have something to hide.
There is another explanation, that I think warrants some attention. Throughout time, the devoted to every religion (that I am aware of) has had parts of their worship which they regarded as sacred. The question how to maintain a sense of sacredness regarding important rites and passages is crucial.
One of the most common ways to preserve that feeling is to restrict access to those experiences to fellow believers. Although this may raise questions and concerns, it attempts to ensure that those participating will respect what we hold sacred or important.
We don’t have to look far today to see examples that reinforce the need to guard the sacred or personal in our lives.
How Can I Celebrate a Temple Wedding as a non-Mormon?
I already mentioned that several members of my family were not able to come to my wedding. I have tried to explain the beliefs behind my decision to get married in the temple even though my dad–one of my best friends to this day–would not be there.
I know there may be those that read this and wonder about my relationship with my dad to exclude him from the most significant event in my life.
Trust me. Even with the deeply held religious beliefs and the convictions, it was very difficult to consider the reality that he would not be there. To be honest, my deeply held religious beliefs and my relationship with Dad, Grandma, and others, placed me in an internal conflict.
I think this is where my family provided me with the greatest wedding gift. They simply expressed their support for my desire to be sealed for eternity rather than married only until death.
They recognized that my wedding was for me… not for them. And, in order to help me have the best day possible, they put my desires in front of their own.
I cannot explain the relief that brought. I am still, 18 years later, so grateful for their understanding and support. It made the day even sweeter.