The following was originally printed in the May/June 2014 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
By Eric Johnson
Engaged Latter-day Saint couples are encouraged to get married—or what is called “sealed for time and eternity”—in one of the dozens of LDS temples located around the world. On the wedding day, a small contingent of relatives and close friends are allowed to attend. Each guest must possess a valid temple recommend, given only to those Latter-day Saints who follow certain rules, including abstaining from coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco as well as staying current with tithes and faithfully attending church meetings.
When the potential bride and/or the groom come(s) from non-LDS families, the couple will be tested as they will have to determine how to gently explain that only faithful Latter-day Saints may attend temple ceremonies, which includes weddings. This news may come as a shock to many, including Christian families.
Having two ceremonies—one civil, one temple—appears to be the answer in countries outside North America that require weddings to be public events. This allows anyone to attend the civil ceremony while minimizing hurt feelings of those locked out of the temple ceremony. However, this is not an option in North America, as those participating in a civil marriage are required to wait at least a year before a temple wedding can be performed. According to the February 12, 2014 Salt Lake Tribune (“Is change coming to Mormon temple wedding policy?”), church leaders are considering a policy change, but for now, North American civil and LDS temple weddings cannot be combined in the same year.
In 2002 the church produced a booklet written to those who wanted to prepare themselves for temple entrance. Titled “Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple,” this 37-page publication attempts to educate the membership about the purpose for the temple as well as providing proper dressing guidelines.
One section in the article explains that
“there are occasions when a temple wedding is being planned and some very close members of the family are not qualified for temple recommends. It may be that the groom or the bride is a convert and his or her parents are not yet in the Church; or, that they are too new in the Church to qualify for a temple recommend. Or it may be that the parents are members of the Church but one of them is not living the gospel standards sufficiently to receive a temple recommend.”
“These limitations loom large at times of temple marriages. These are the times when families should be very close together, when they should be drawn together to share in these sacred moments of life. The withholding of a temple recommend to one who is not qualified, or the inability to invite a nonmember friend or relative to witness the sealing, can quickly present problems. This might cause unhappiness and contention at the very moment when there is a great need to have things serene, to have the greatest harmony.”
While attending a child’s wedding is anticipated by parents all over the world (perhaps since the time of the child’s birth), anyone not possessing these temple recommends is required to wait in the temple’s chapel area while the child gets married upstairs. Imagine having to be the person who must inform this family that the LDS leaders believe that God doesn’t want them to see their loved one’s wedding. It’s a horrible situation, so it’s no wonder there is “unhappiness and contention.”
To try to get the Latter-day Saint to grasp how offensive this policy is, perhaps the tables should be turned by way of an illustration. Suppose LDS parents have just found out that their child is going to marry, say, a Southern Baptist. In our scenario, let’s assume this child dated outside the faith and decided to leave Mormonism to join the Southern Baptist church, making the other family very happy. Thus, there will be no temple ceremony; instead, the wedding will be performed at the local Southern Baptist church.
Now, for the purpose of illustration, suppose this church does not allow non-Southern Baptists to enter the church’s sanctuary because it is considered holy ground. (Of course, this is not true for any Southern Baptist church, but we’ll use it to illustrate the point.) Can anyone imagine how hurt this LDS family will be? It’s enough of a shock to realize that this son or daughter converted to a religion outside Mormonism. But because these parents and other family members don’t live up to Baptist standards, they will not be allowed to personally enjoy the ceremony. Could it be that many Latter-day Saints who may be willing to keep others from participating in a temple wedding have never put themselves in the shoes of the relatives on the other side of the aisle?
The article continues,
“When a temple marriage is scheduled and one of the parents or a very close relative is not able to enter the temple, careful planning may well make that an opportunity instead of a problem. Consider these suggestions. Invite the nonmember parent, or the member who is not eligible for a temple recommend, to come to the temple with the wedding party. There is a spirit and influence on the temple grounds that is not found in other places. Some of the temples have visitors’ centers. The temple grounds in every case are beautifully kept. All in all it is a place of peace and serenity.”
Let’s return to our scenario. Imagine if the LDS parents were told, “While you can’t see the ceremony of your baby girl getting married, we’d love to invite you to wait downstairs in a special room at the Baptist church. Come inside our foyer and make yourself comfortable on our couch. Have some punch and peruse the bookstore in the lobby. Relax and enjoy some quiet time while your child is getting married upstairs. Oh, and feel free to stroll on our lovely church grounds—don’t they look so pretty?”
The article continues:
“Arrange to have someone wait with that family member. Surely you would not leave the person alone. There are instances in which family members who were quite eligible to enter the temple to witness the marriage were content instead to spend the time on the temple grounds with those who could not. Here in the surroundings of the temple they have been able to explain the desire of the young couple to be sealed in the house of the Lord.”
This would be akin to LDS parents in our situation being comforted with these words: “Don’t worry, Mom and Dad. Aunt Ethel is a Methodist and is also unable to come in, so we’ll have her sit with you while your child is getting married.” Honestly, is having a companion like Aunt Ethel going to make the situation any better?
Next, the article reads,
“There can be great influence exerted at this time that may not have been possible otherwise. For instance, at some of the larger temples tours are conducted. Planning ahead may provide some special attention tailored to fit the need of a close family member who for one reason or another is not able to enter the temple. The disappointment and even resentment, sometimes bitterness, on the part of the nonmember parents or ineligible-member parents can be greatly softened in these ways.”
“Greatly softened”? There is an apparent lack of compassion by whomever wrote the LDS booklet, as it is highly doubtful that the LDS parents would be appeased by being invited to the Southern Baptist church’s open house and being given a chance to tour the building where their child will be married. They don’t care about the building, but rather they care about their child.
While it might seem made up, the next sentence is really found in the booklet: “In some temples a special room is provided where parents who are not eligible to enter the temple itself may meet with a qualified individual who can answer their questions.” This would be like having the Baptist invite the LDS parents to a “special room” to meet with a Baptist church overseer who could answer their questions. (One can only imagine the tone of how any potential questions would be asked, such as, “Why is it again you are not allowing us to attend our child’s wedding?”)
But the final kick-in-the-gut comment comes in the following paragraph:
“The young couple must understand that their parents may have looked forward to the wedding day during the entire lives of the bride and groom. Their desire to attend the wedding, and their resentment when they cannot, is a sign of parental attachment. It is not to be resented by the young couple. It is to be understood and planned for carefully as a part of the wedding. There are some cases of course in which the ineligible parent is offended and will not be placated. In those cases the young couple will just have to make the best of it.”
According to the article, the “parental attachment” is apparently warranted, yet the parents are still prohibited from watching the ceremony. Some LDS couples have attempted to appease non-LDS families by having ring ceremonies, with the bride even walking down the aisle. Pictures of the wedding party may even be scheduled after the mock event.
One Christian father told me that this offer was “like being invited to the pregame warm-ups but asked to leave when the real game started.” His wife was also offended, as she told the LDS family, “‘You want us there to be in the pictures so everything looks right?’ When the bride’s family saw we were not buying in, her parents even offered to sit in the temple waiting area with us during the marriage ceremony, if that would make us feel better.” Because having the other parents miss the ceremony was not an acceptable solution, they politely declined the offer.
Even though “families are (supposed to be) forever,” doesn’t this whole episode place a wedge in the new couple’s relationship with the in-laws? Is the potential alienation any way to begin a healthy marriage? After all, support from both sides of the families is important, especially in the critical first few years.
Perhaps we could share “the other shoe” scenario with our Latter-day Saint friends and family members who might not comprehend how offensive this LDS policy really is.