Article Categories

Mormonism’s Eternal Sealings: A Complex Story

by Sharon Lindbloom
3 June 2024

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints devotes considerable resources to seeking after its dead (as the faith’s founder Joseph Smith put it). This includes the genealogical research the church is somewhat famous for, used to first identify deceased people and then provide them with Mormonism’s “saving ordinances” done vicariously for them in LDS temples.

Latter-day Saint author and researcher Jana Riess recently wrote about one of these temple ordinances: “temple sealing rituals.” These are supposed to permanently unite families, creating a “forever family” that will be together throughout eternity. The church’s website explains,

“Unlike marriages that last only ‘until death do you part,’ temple sealings ensure that death cannot separate loved ones…

“A husband and wife who are sealed in the temple make sacred covenants with the Lord and with each other. These covenants assure them that their relationship will continue after this life if they are true to their commitments. They know that nothing, not even death, can separate them…

“To extend these blessings to all people, we can also perform proxy sealings for those who have died. In this way, all families may be together forever…” (About Temple Sealings)

“It’s a beautiful belief, this idea that families are eternal,” Dr. Riess writes. “Except.” Except in practical terms, it’s all rather complicated.

In her Salt Lake Tribune article Dr. Riess takes a look at the “complex story” of “how temple sealing rules developed in a rather piecemeal fashion over time.” Synopsizing a study done by Mormon scholar Nathan Oman, Dr. Riess briefly discusses at least seven changes that have been made to LDS temple sealing rules since the church instituted the doctrine less than 200 years ago. Most of the rule changes seem to have been made due to (surprisingly) unforeseen complications related to human relationships: deaths, abuses, divorces, and remarriages. 

These human complications wreak havoc for the church’s eternal marital bonds as people change their minds–or their circumstances–regarding who they might want to be married to for eternity. 

Subsequently, though the rules continue to change and evolve, many LDS temple sealings have effectively solidified eternal marriages that include a husband and several wives, or a wife and several husbands; and forever families whose children may end up spending eternity with a mother or father they never knew during their mortal lives. This raises questions for Mormons who may wonder, as one church manual puts it, “how being sealed to more than one person will be handled in the afterlife.” 

In the LDS church’s lesson on “The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage” in “The Eternal Family Class Preparation Material (Religion 200)” students are offered resources beyond the given lesson. One of them addresses

“How are eternal family relationships affected by divorce, the cancellation of a sealing, or remarriage?”

To find the answer the manual suggests, “President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency addressed much of what we know and what we do not know about how being sealed to more than one person will be handled in the afterlife in the article ‘Elder Oaks Interview Transcript from PBS Documentary’ (July 20, 2007,” Here, found in the last third of a 13,000-word interview, the LDS apostle explained,

“If I talked about that I’d be making doctrinal statements where the prophet has not chosen to make doctrinal statements, so I think I shouldn’t say anything except to affirm that a lot of people, myself included, are in multiple-marriage situations. Look at the significance of that. There are a lot of people that live on this earth that have been married to more than one person. Sometimes those marriages have ended with death; sometimes they’ve ended with divorce. What does the next life mean to them in relation to a covenant they once made and so on? I don’t think those people have much of an answer for that question. It might not bother them because they don’t believe that people will live as married couples in the next life. And if they don’t make and live for the covenants to do that, [as for themselves] they’re right! But for people who live in the belief, as I do, that marriage relations can be for eternity, then you must say, ‘What will life be in the next life, when you’re married to more than one wife for eternity?’ I have to say I don’t know.”

According to Mormonism, what will life be in the next life, when men and women are both married (sealed) to multiple spouses for eternity? Despite the LDS church being led by 15 men it insists are empowered by God as prophets, seers, and revelators, there doesn’t seem to be an answer to the question. But there are some authoritative teachings that members of the LDS church might consider.

Latter-day Saint, is it true, as LDS apostle D. Todd Christofferson says, that “the sealing power and authority restored to earth through Joseph Smith are real, that what is thereby bound on earth truly is bound in heaven” (“The Sealing Power,” October 2023 General Conference)? Does this mean that all of these temple sealings to multiple spouses are, in fact, truly bound in heaven for eternity?

Or is it true, as Dallin Oaks says, that God “will force no one into a sealing relationship against his or her will. The blessings of a sealed relationship are assured for all who keep their covenants but never by forcing a sealed relationship on another person who is unworthy or unwilling” (“Kingdoms of Glory,” October 2023 General Conference)? Does this mean that some temple sealings are not eternal after all, and will be annulled in heaven?

But what about Doctrine and Covenants that says that whatever men bind on earth by the power of the priesthood “became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled” (D&C 128:9)? Then what happens to those who were vicariously sealed to an abusive spouse (for example) for all eternity?

In Mormonism, the “eternal sealing ordinance” is, perhaps, not eternal at all. Or if it is, the resulting “forever families” are incomprehensible. When I look at this, I see a mass of confusion and Johnny-come-lately policies instituted as the church scrambles to work around the complexities of human relationships. I see a man-made system, not a God-given doctrine.

And indeed, Jesus tells us that there is no marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:23-30). To think otherwise, He said, is “wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”Mormonism’s sealing ordinance is not of God. In reality, it’s a tangled web of broken promises that carry forward into eternity, a distraction that causes Later-day Saints to miss the beauty and the glory of the One who truly satisfies every longing of every heart for all eternity — our Beloved, Jesus Christ. Becoming eternally united to Him is not complicated at all.

“…To the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, …to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” -Ephesians 1:6–8, 10

To see Sharon’s other news articles, click here.

Share this

Check out these related articles...