Singlehood in Mormonism

By Eric Johnson

In the January 2005 Ensign, an official monthly LDS Church magazine, LDS Seventy Clate W. Mask Jr. referred to Doctrine and Covenants 14:7 where Jesus supposedly told Joseph Smith, “If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (“Broken Car, Broken Dreams?” pp. 29-31).

“To receive this blessing of exaltation, a temple sealing is essential,” Mask continued before quoting D&C 131:1-3, which declares, “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.”

Mask ends his article by saying,

“I am so grateful for temples, for missionary work, and for latter-day scriptures, including the Doctrine and Covenants, which help us understand what we must do to gain eternal life and dwell with our families forever with our Father in Heaven.”

Just a few pages later in that same issue of the Ensign, Kimberly D. Nelson, an LDS Church member from American Fork, Utah, wrote an article under the heading “Secular Happiness.” The still-single Nelson writes, “At some point in my life I was assigned to a classroom labeled ‘single.’ Despite my efforts, I realized I had little control over when I could leave, so I spent most of my adult life seeing my classroom as a prison.”

She described her life of singleness as peaceful-looking on the outside but struggling on the inside. “All I could focus on was the door of this prison, and all I wanted was out,” she wrote. Admitting that she was jealous over the marriages of her friends, Nelson said life was torturous. When someone told her at a priesthood blessing that she looked “so put together,” Nelson “smiled and thanked her, while the irony of her words weighed on me: I actually felt close to falling apart.”

Struggling with “doubt, loneliness, and confusion,” Nelson explained that she “began to wonder if I had somehow failed Heavenly Father. I thought maybe it was taking longer for the door [of marriage] to open because there was something I was supposed to be that I wasn’t being, and that it was all my fault. Lasting peace continued to elude me.” Nelson was told at another priesthood blessing that she needed to humble herself, “despite the fact that I had just spent the last several months beating myself up for imagined offenses. Obviously I needed a different kind of humility.”

Nelson said that she was able to deal with her singleness when she received a positive feeling at a ward activity. “It was as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes. I realize that what I had considered a prison was filled with more wonderful things than I had ever noticed….I had only needed to humble myself enough to be deeply grateful for those gifts to finally feel years of pain fall away.”

She concluded her article by saying, “I believe that when someone finally comes into the room, holds out his hand, and says, ‘Honey, you’re finished here; let’s go,’ I will have to stop long enough to take one finally look around at what the Lord has done for me as a single person before finally stepping through the door—and into another classroom.”

From these two articles in the same issue of an official church publication, consider the mixed message that is being sent to the Mormon people. On the one hand, a church leader states that a “temple sealing is essential” if a person hopes to someday achieve exaltation. This means that a faithful Mormon is not qualified for God’s intended best until he or she finds a mate who is willing to go to the temple and be sealed not only for “time” but “eternity” as well. Those who are unable or unwilling to complete the task are somehow disqualified from God’s intended eternal best.

On the other hand, Nelson—who admirably expresses her past struggles when it comes to her not finding a mate—suffers a terrible depression because she somehow feels she is falling short of God’s will for her life. Unfortunately, her whole sense of identity seems to be tied up in an unknown person whom she hopes will one day rescue her from the ball and chain that sinks her into the river of what should be celestial bliss.

In a related article that followed Nelson’s piece (“A Different Path,” pp. 38-39), Rebecca M. Taylor of the Church Magazines gives a few “suggestions…for making life meaningful as a single Church member” including “focus(ing) on what is good in your life,” “don’t give up,” and “know that God is mindful of you.”

The article almost sounds patronizing to the church’s single members. With Utah—a state that is made up of 70% Latter-day Saints— leading the nation in young marriages (the average marrying age is 24 for men and 21 for women compared to 27 for men in the rest of the nation and 25 for women (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/10/05)), there apparently are many single people in the Mormon Church who begin to panic as they slowly drift out of their 20s and into their 30s. Could it be that the many commands and stipulations made by the church’s leadership be part of the reason why Utah has almost twice the national rate of anti-depressant usage, according to a 2002 report? (Source)

Never mind that a requirement for marriage is not even close to being biblical. There is a whole chapter in the Bible dedicated to the issues of singleness and marriage: 1 Corinthians 7. According to verse 7, Paul said that he wished

“that all men were even as I myself,” as he was single at the time. In verses 8-9, he referred to the unmarried and widows and, while leaving marriage as an option, declared, “It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”

In verse 17, he continued, “But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.” (The New International Version translates this verse as “each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him.”) How could he say this if marriage was an exaltation requirement?

Going on to verse 25 through verse 28, Paul said every Christian needs to be content in his or her own present-day circumstances:

“Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.”

Notice how Paul concludes the issue in verses 37-38:

“Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.”

Does Paul sound like he is teaching that a person must be married in order to attain a fullness in heaven? If so, then he certainly does not do a very convincing job of it. Of course, this does not mean that marriage is to be minimized, as it certainly is a wonderful institution approved by God. Most people, Paul admits, will not have the gift of celibacy. Marriage is therefore an event that will take place in the lives of most people, Christians included.

However, God has a place for single people as well. They are not any less qualified to spend eternity with Him than those who are no different except they decide to take a mate in this life. Unfortunately, there are too many like Kimberly Nelson who deal with guilt over their singleness. Mormon Church leaders have placed a heavy burden on their people by dangling a carrot in front of the proverbial horse cart and making heaven something earned rather than something received. If this requirement hasn’t polluted the gospel as preached throughout the pages of the Bible, then what has?