Chapter 10: Nurturing the Eternal Partnership of Marriage

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

Heavenly Father designed marriage from the beginning.

How wonderful a thing is marriage under the plan of our Eternal Father, a plan provided in His divine wisdom for the happiness and security of His children and the continuity of the race.

He is our Creator, and He designed marriage from the beginning. At the time of Eve’s creation, “Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: … Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:23–24.)

Paul wrote to the Corinthian Saints, “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:11.)

In modern revelation, the Lord has said, “And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man.” (D&C 49:15.) …

Surely no one reading the scriptures, both ancient and modern, can doubt the divine concept of marriage. The sweetest feelings of life, the most generous and satisfying impulses of the human heart, find expression in a marriage that stands pure and unsullied above the evil of the world.

Such a marriage, I believe, is the desire—the hoped-for, the longed-for, the prayed-for desire—of men and women everywhere.

Let’s be very clear from the start. Christians believe in marriage, a gift provided by God for procreation as well as companionship. I have been married for close to three decades and, while my wife and I are not perfect, marriage has made us both better people. We would be the poorer without each other and life as a married couple. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Neither would she. (I hope she means it!) For committed Christians, marriage and family are very important for our lives on earth. However, as this chapter will show, the Christian idea of marriage is different from what is taught in Mormonism.

In the temple, a husband and wife can be sealed together for all eternity.

[The] temples … offer blessings that are had nowhere else. All that occurs in these sacred houses has to do with the eternal nature of man. Here, husbands and wives and children are sealed together as families for all eternity. Marriage is not “until death do ye part.” It is forever, if the parties live worthy of the blessing.

A common expression within Mormonism is “Families are forever.” Mormons can get sentimental when talking about eternal families, for this is a primary expectation in the next life. For instance, Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland is cited in a church promotional video used at temple open house events. He said,

I don’t know how to speak about heaven in the traditional, lovely, paradisaical beauty that we speak of heaven—I wouldn’t know how to speak of heaven without my wife, my children. It would not be heaven for me.

Eighth President George Albert Smith would have agreed with Holland, as he said,

If I were to think, as so many think, that now that my beloved wife and my beloved parents are gone, that they have passed out of my life forever and that I shall never see them again, it would deprive me of one of the greatest joys that I have in life: the contemplation of meeting them again, and receiving their welcome and their affection, and of thanking them from the depths of a grateful heart for all they have done for me (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 83-84).

Mormons are told how exaltation in the celestial kingdom will allow them to be “united eternally with their righteous family members and [they] will be able to have eternal increase” (Gospel Principles, p. 277). Focusing on the meaning of “eternal increase” within the exalted state, another church manual explains, “By definition, exaltation includes the ability to procreate the family unit throughout eternity” (Achieving a Celestial Marriage, p. 129).

The idea of residing with one’s family as a reward for a job well done on earth has been a consistent theme throughout much of Mormonism’s history. Consider some of the following quotes in LDS Church publications:

Except  a man and his  wife enter into  an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection. But those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life, and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory (History of the Church 5:391).

Families can be together forever. To enjoy this blessing we must be married in the temple….If we keep our covenants with the Lord, our families will be united eternally as husband, wife, and children. Death cannot separate us (Gospel Principles, 209).

To be exalted in the highest degree and continue eternally in family relationships, we must enter into “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” and be true to that covenant. In other words, temple marriage is a requirement for obtaining the highest degree of celestial glory (True to the Faith, 93).

Under the great plan of the loving Creator, the mission of His Church is to help us achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom, and that can be accomplished only through an eternal marriage between a man and a woman (Dallin H. Oaks, “Fundamental Premises of Our Faith,” Newsroom, March 5, 2010).

As these quotes attest along with the words of Gordon B. Hinckley, marriage in this life is crucial for a couple to have any hope in attaining the celestial kingdom

Was there ever a man who truly loved a woman, or a woman who truly loved a man, who did not pray that their relationship might continue beyond the grave? Has a child ever been buried by parents who did not long for the assurance that their loved one would again be theirs in a world to come? Can anyone believing in eternal life doubt that the God of heaven would grant His sons and daughters that most precious attribute of life, the love that finds its most meaningful expression in family relationships? No, reason demands that the family relationship shall continue after death. The human heart longs for it, and the God of heaven has revealed a way whereby it may be secured. The sacred ordinances of the house of the Lord provide for it.

How sweet is the assurance, how comforting is the peace that come from the knowledge that if we marry right and live right, our relationship will continue, notwithstanding the certainty of death and the passage of time. Men may write love songs and sing them. They may yearn and hope and dream. But all of this will be only a romantic longing unless there is an exercise of authority that transcends the powers of time and death.

Some Mormons have created a stereotype about the Christian’s view of heaven, assuming it means sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp, and singing hymns to Jesus throughout eternity in a most boring fashion. While this is certainly not an accurate portrayal of heaven, perhaps the Latter-day Saint should consider Mormon 7:7 in the Book of Mormon. It reads,

And he [Jesus] have brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.

 In the mind of the Latter-day Saint, it makes sense that heaven includes the family unit. President Joseph F. Smith explained,

I have the glorious promise of the association of my loved ones throughout all eternity. In obedience to this work, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I shall gather around me my family, my children, my children’s children, until they become as numerous as the seed of Abraham, or as countless as the sands upon the seashore. For this is my right and privilege, and the right and privilege of every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who holds the Priesthood and will magnify it in the sight of God (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 386).

Certainly Christians should invest heavily in their earthly families, but nowhere does the Bible teach that mom, dad, grandparents, children, or others will live together as a family unit in heaven. Jesus plainly explained the role of marriage and families in heaven in Matthew 22:23–30 and Mark 12:18–27. Answering the question posed to Him by the Sadducees, Jesus answered them, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:29–30).

Mormon apologist Gilbert Scharffs complains about those who use this passage to reject eternal marriage when he writes, “This verse does not say there won’t be any marriage in heaven, only that marriages will not be performed there” (The Missionary’s Little Book of Answers, p. 62). This is nothing more than reading into a passage, as Scharffs provides no evidence to support his point. In Mormonism, dwelling together as a family unit presupposes that each member of the family could follow the whole law during their mortal probation. In fact, no biblical passage–I repeat–no biblical passage ever states or even insinuates that marriage to another person is a requirement for salvation. Never.

As the quote given above from Gospel Principles states, “If we keep our covenants with the Lord, our families will be united eternally as husband, wife, and children.” Thus, complete obedience is a requirement to living together as a family unit. According to President Joseph Fielding Smith, “To enter the celestial and obtain exaltation it is necessary that the whole law be kept” (The Way to Perfection, 206). For the sake of argument, suppose that keeping the whole law is possible. If that is the case, then how can the following questions be answered:

  • Where will all the billions and billions of family members from the beginning of time physically reside?
  • Are we to assume that the God of Mormonism continues to reside with his extended earthly family?
  • Does he worship the God who preceded him?
  • And since Jesus is our spirit brother from the preexistence, will He become “Uncle Jesus” to the offspring of a Mormon who becomes a god?
  • Will the heavenly Father be known as “Heavenly Grandfather” to these offspring?
  • What about those members of a Mormon family who do not qualify for celestial glory?

Many Mormons have never thought through these questions. Perhaps they should. After all, Mormonism teaches that a person can’t reach the celestial kingdom on the coattails of another faithful member; each person must individually qualify. Even if this concept ended up being true, the odds are that most LDS families will be incomplete because some of their loved ones will fail to live up to the proper standards during their mortal probation. It is a misnomer to say that Christians don’t believe in an eternal family structure since all forgiven humans are a part of God’s family. As such, all redeemed believers will live in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God will be the focus of our attention in eternity, not us. Sadly, Christians will not experience eternity with unforgiven loved ones. However, in Mormon teaching this same situation exists. Faithful Mormons will not be joined by family members who were unfaithful in mortality. On the surface, the idea of eternal family units may sound very appealing to some, but once the LDS concept is carried to its logical conclusion, it breaks down quickly.

God will not withhold any blessings from worthy individuals who are not married.

These words are found in a subheading and were not cited by President Hinckley. Regardless, what support is given to legitimize this statement? Where in the Standards Works does it suggest that those who are unmarried can reach the celestial kingdom?

Somehow we have put a badge on a very important group in the Church. It reads “Singles.” I wish we would not do that. You are individuals, men and women, sons and daughters of God, not a mass of “look-alikes” or “do-alikes.” Because you do not happen to be married does not make you essentially different from others. All of us are very much alike in appearance and emotional responses, in our capacity to think, to reason, to be miserable, to be happy, to love and be loved.

You are just as important as any others in the scheme of our Father in Heaven, and under His mercy no blessing to which you otherwise might be entitled will forever be withheld from you.

How did this “badge” referenced by Hinckley originate? Could it be the that numerous LDS leaders over the years have stressed marriage so much that it has created second-class citizens of their unmarried members? Read the following quotes—I invite you to check the context of any of them—and see what the leadership has said:

Founder Joseph Smith: “Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection. But those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life, and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory” (History of the Church 5:391).

Second President Brigham Young: “No man can be perfect without the woman, so no woman can be perfect without a man to lead her. I tell you the truth as it is in the bosom of eternity. If he wishes to be saved, he cannot be saved without a woman by his side” (Cited in The Miracle of Forgiveness, 245).

“We find quite a large number of young people who have arrived at a marriageable age and still they remain single…. Our young men and women should consider their obligations to each other, to God, the earth, their parents, and to future generations for their salvation and exaltation among the Gods and for the glory of Him whom we serve” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 164. Ellipsis in original).

Fifth President Lorenzo Snow (OK, this quote might not exactly fit the other quotes I list here, but I must include it because it makes me smile): “Wives, be faithful to your husbands. I know you have to put up with many unpleasant things, and your husbands have to put up with some things as well. Doubtless you are sometimes tried by your husbands, on account perhaps of the ignorance of your husbands, or perchance at times because of your own ignorance….  I do not say but that your husbands are bad—just as bad as you are, and probably some of them are worse; but, never mind: try to endure the unpleasantnesses which arise at times, and when you meet each other in the next life you will feel glad that you put up with those things” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 131. Ellipsis in original).

Sixth President Joseph F. Smith: “We hold that no man who is marriageable is fully living his religion who remains unmarried. He is doing a wrong to himself by retarding his progress, by narrowing his experiences, and to society by the undesirable example that he sets to others, as well as he, himself, being a dangerous factor in the community” (Gospel Doctrine, 1986, 275).

“Unless man and wife are married by the power of God and by his authority, they become single again, they have no claim upon each other, after death; their contract is filled by that time, and is therefore of no force in and after the resurrection from the dead, nor after they are dead; hence, the force of the reply of the Savior: Therefore, when they are out of the world, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but become as angels in heaven” (“Marriage God-Ordained and Sanctioned,” Improvement Era, July 1902, 716).

Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith: “Another thing that we must not forget in this great plan of redemption and exaltation, is that a man must have a wife, and a woman a husband, to receive the fulness of exaltation. They must be sealed for time and for all eternity in a temple; then their union will last forever, and they cannot be separated because God has joined them together, as he taught the Pharisees” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:43-44.  Italics in original).

“Since marriage is ordained of God, and the man is not without the woman, neither the woman without the man in the Lord, there can be no exaltation to the fulness of the blessings of the celestial kingdom outside of the marriage relation” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:65.  Italics in original).

“Unless young people who marry outside the temple speedily repent, they cut themselves off from exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. If they should prove themselves worthy, notwithstanding that great error, to enter into the celestial kingdom, they go in that kingdom as servants. What does that mean? The revelation tells us they go into that kingdom to be servants to those who are worthy of a more highly exalted position—something with greater glory. They are servants to them. They don’t become sons and daughters of God. They are not joint heirs with Jesus Christ. They do not obtain the kingdom, that is, the crown and the glory of the kingdom of God. When they come forth in the resurrection, they have no claim upon each other, or their children upon them, and there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions: A Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum 1972-73, 265).

Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball: “Delayed marriage … is not fully acceptable. All normal people should plan their lives to include a proper temple marriage in their early life and to multiply and have their families in the years of their early maturity” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 2006, 195. Ellipsis in original)

Fifteenth President Gordon B. Hinckley (not cited in this manual): “Are women included in those who shall partake of such glory? Most assuredly. As a matter of fact, in attaining the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom, the man cannot enter without the woman, neither can the woman enter without the man. The two are inseparable as husband and wife in eligibility for that highest degree of glory” (“Daughters of God,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1991, 98).

Apostle Mark E. Petersen: “We must realize that we can no more have exaltation in the celestial kingdom without temple marriage than we can have membership in the Church without baptism” (October 31, 1962, “A Commitment to Temple Marriage,” BYU Speeches of the Year, 5).

Apostle M. Russell Ballard: “I would rather be a woman not entering into marriage in mortality than a man. I would not want to stand before the Lord as a healthy, normal man and try to explain why I never married. Please understand that temple marriage is absolutely vital in our quest to inherit the highest degree of the celestial kingdom” (“Keep the Commandments – Beginning Right Now!,” BYU fireside address given September 6, 1987).

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks: “Under the great plan of the living Creator, the mission of His Church is to help us achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom, and that can be accomplished only through an eternal marriage between a man and a woman (see D&C 131:1-3)” (“Fundamental to Our Faith,” Ensign, January 2011, 25-26).

Apostle Russell M. Nelson: “Brethren, please remember: The highest degree of glory is available to you only through that order of the priesthood linked to the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (“Honoring the Priesthood,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1993, 40).

“On occasion, I read in a newspaper obituary of an expectation that a recent death has reunited that person with a deceased spouse, when, in fact, they did not choose the eternal option. Instead, they opted for a marriage that was valid only as long as they both should live. Heavenly Father has offered them a supernal gift, but they refused it. And in rejecting the gift, they rejected the Giver of the gift” (“Celestial Marriage,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2008, 93. Italics in original).

“Celestial marriage is a pivotal part of preparation for eternal life. It requires one to be married to the right person, in the right place, by the right authority, and to obey that sacred covenant faithfully. Then one may be assured of exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God” (“Celestial Marriage,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2008, 94).

Apostle Robert D. Hales: “With Heavenly Father’s plan as a fixed point of reference, the purpose of marriage comes clearly into focus. The commandment to leave father and mother, cleave to one another in marriage, and multiply and replenish the earth makes His plan possible. Through marriage we bring His spirit children into the world and become partners with Him in helping His children participate in His plan. The Father’s plan provides us the way to inherit eternal life, the life our heavenly parents lead. In the plan, ‘neither is the man without the woman, [nor] the woman without the man, in the Lord.’ The very essence of eternal life includes the eternal marriage of man and woman, which is an essential part of becoming like our heavenly parents” (“The Plan of Salvation: A sacred treasure of knowledge to guide us,” Ensign, October 2015, 28. Brackets in original).

How many more citations would be needed to support the notion that marriage is a requirement for the celestial kingdom? The fact that I could provide dozens of additional quotes through the teachings of other leaders and the church manuals as well as a plethora of other LDS sources should be worth something.

Permit me now to say a word to those who have never had the opportunity to be married. I assure you that we are sensitive to the loneliness that many of you feel. Loneliness is a bitter and painful thing. I suppose all people have felt it at one time or another. Our hearts reach out to you with understanding and love. …

… This season of your lives can be wonderful. You have maturity. You have judgment. Most of you have training and experience. You have the physical, mental, and spiritual strength to lift and help and encourage.

There are so many out there who need you. … Keep your spiritual batteries at full charge and light the lamps of others.

To you who have not married, … God has given you talents of one kind or another. He has given you the capacity to serve the needs of others and bless their lives with your kindness and concern. Reach out to someone in need. …

Add knowledge to knowledge. Refine your mind and skills in a chosen field of discipline. There are tremendous opportunities for you if you are prepared to take advantage of them. … Do not feel that because you are single, God has forsaken you. The world needs you. The Church needs you. So very many people and causes need your strength and wisdom and talents.

If those who don’t get married in the temple for time and eternity pass away before this happens, it surely would be a bleak situation. Marriage is a requirement in this religion, and the LDS people know it. Yet some leaders have stated the possibility that maybe, just maybe, marriage in this life isn’t crucial. For instance, here’s an early source from a century ago, provided by Seventy B.H. Roberts:

Some, through misrepresentation, have charged that we believe this doctrine so absolutely as to hold that there is no salvation for man or woman outside of the marriage relation. Of course, that is an extreme to which we do not go. We believe—at least, permit me to say that I believe, and I think I have warrant for such belief in the principles of our faith, that it is possible for either man or woman to be saved without marriage at all (Defense of The Faith and The Saints 2:651).

Meanwhile, President Hinckley said this at a 1991 general conference:

Some who are not married, through no fault of their own, ask whether they will always be denied the highest degree of glory in that kingdom. I am confident that under the plan of a loving Father and a divine Redeemer, no blessing of which you are otherwise worthy will forever be denied you (“Daughters of God,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1991, 98).

He’s “confident,” he says, yet he provided no solid evidence from the Standard Works to support his case. Instead, this is what he said in the following words:

Beyond the wonderful and descriptive words found in sections 76 and 137 [D&C 76; D&C 137] we know relatively little concerning the celestial kingdom and those who will be there. At least some of the rules of eligibility for acceptance into that kingdom are clearly set forth, but other than that, we are given little understanding. However, I repeat that I am confident that the daughters of God will be as eligible as will be the sons of God.

So, he admits that there is “relatively little” from his scripture, and yet he has the ability to claim ignorance about what is really required. How should a rational person accept such a position with no scriptural support to use as a back-up?

And Apostle Russell M. Nelson explained,

What of the many mature members of the Church who are not married? Through no failing of their own, they deal with the trials of life alone. Be we all reminded that, in the Lord’s own way and time, no blessings will be withheld from His faithful Saints. The Lord will judge and reward each individual according to heartfelt desire as well as deed (“Celestial Marriage,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2008, p. 94. See also Ensign, June 2011, 55).

These statements appear to be contradictory to what the Standard Works say along with so many authoritative General Authorities, especially in light of the plethora of citations from so many other authoritative sources. What do their words mean? For instance, how are we supposed to interpret President Hinckley’s words “through no fault of their own”? Is this a reference to a spouse who was divorced by their temple mate? Or those who couldn’t get married due to looks? Or weight? How about a bad personality? Grumpiness? Sexual orientation? Desire to be single? The list could go on and on.

But couldn’t this “no fault of their own” be corrected in many cases? Referring to the excuses in the previous sentence, how about the less-than-pretty single Mormon visiting a beauty salon and using make-up to become more attractive to the opposite sex? Lose some weight? Read self-help books on getting a better personality? Get self-discipline and not be grumpy? Suppress homosexual desires for the sake of the celestial kingdom? Quit being so selfish and desire marriage?

See, anyone could say that they were not married through any “fault of their own.” It almost seems like this open-ended excuse allows the individual Mormon to use the catch-all phrase “personal revelation” to say whatever she wants it to mean. If I’m a Mormon, I don’t want to hear what I want it to mean. I want to hear what it means. For LDS leaders, the onus is on their backs to explain God’s intent. Is it an absolute requirement to get married in a temple? Or is it nothing more than a divine suggestion? The evidence as found in the citations from LDS scripture, leaders, and manuals shows that there’s little support for those who want to say that “no blessings will be withheld from His faithful Saints” if they don’t get married for time and eternity.

Be prayerful, and do not lose hope. … Live the very best life of which you are capable, and the Lord in his greater wisdom and in his eternal season will give you answer to your prayers.

And what if the “answer to your prayers” is that a person remains single for the rest of her life? Then what? Should this person be considered celestial marriage material?

To you who are divorced, please know that we do not look down upon you as failures because a marriage failed. … Ours is the obligation not to condemn, but to forgive and to forget, to lift and to help. In your hours of desolation turn to the Lord, who said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28, 30.)

The Lord will not deny you nor turn you away. The answers to your prayers may not be dramatic; they may not be readily understood or even appreciated. But the time will come when you will know that you have been blessed.

I would think most Mormons would “know” that they are blessed when they are getting sealed for time and eternity in the temple. But what if that day never comes?

Indeed, marriage according to Mormonism has a completely different nuance than what is taught in Christianity. I think I like the biblical model much better.

To read other reviews of the Gordon B. Hinckley manual, click here.