‘Til Death Do Us Part

August 30, 2005 | 55 comments
By

When the topic turns to marriage, someone in Gospel Doctrine class inevitably refers with derision to that famous phrase from traditional marriage vows, “’til death do us part.” To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “I do not think this [phrase] means what you think it means.” Mormons have a nasty habit of caricaturing other religions. Of course, we do not have a monopoly on this practice, but we should be more charitable.

From the tone of comments that I have heard in various Gospel Doctrine classes, I infer that many Mormons think of the phrase “’til death do us part” as evidence of a doctrine of eternal separation. A charitable reading of the phrase, however, suggests that the focus is on a noble intention to remain committed during this earthly life. (Indeed, when you consider the modern alternatives, “’til death do us part” seems quite elevated.) It is also an accurate description of the effect of physical death, at least when one of the marriage partners remains alive. Most significantly, it says nothing about the ultimate destiny of the couple, thus reflecting either uncertainty about the details of the afterlife or a belief that marriage will be replaced with some greater union (e.g., of all of the righteous into God) after death.

We Mormons are right to be thankful for the doctrine of eternal marriage, which eliminates the uncertainty and provides a compelling vision of the role of families in the plan of salvation. Why does our gratitude so often find expression in mockery?

Tags:

55 Responses to ‘Til Death Do Us Part

  1. Aaron Brown on August 30, 2005 at 2:30 am

    Thanks for ruining my favorite Gospel Doctrine one-liner, Gordon. Now what am I going to do? The only reason I go to class is to revel in my theological superiority to all other apostate faiths and peoples. Next, I suppose you’re going to tell me I can’t make smug, condescending comments about how foolish other Christians are, or how I shouldn’t haughtily point out how all Mormon doctrines are self-evidently true from an unbiased reading of the Biblical text. Thanks for ruining my day. :)

    Aaron B

  2. JKS on August 30, 2005 at 2:33 am

    LOL, Aaron.

  3. manaen on August 30, 2005 at 3:19 am

    1.
    Nice nesting of meanings: “revel in my theological superiority to all other apostate faiths” *all other* apostates? Maybe your caricature’s words indicate that his hubris already has him leading them down that road!

  4. gst on August 30, 2005 at 9:22 am

    Judging from his comments at the Newport Beach Temple dedication this last Sunday, President Hinckley subscribes to this “less charitable” reading of the phrase “’til death do you part.” In his words (approximately): “Upon officiating a marriage with that phrase, a marriage and a divorce are thereby pronounced in the same moment.”

  5. Ivan Wolfe on August 30, 2005 at 9:25 am

    Most Christians I have discussed this with feel that “’til death do us part” means what most Mormons say it means, what with the “traditional” reading of Matt. 22:30: “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” – the “traditional” reading that I’ve heard from many a priest and layman is that in heaven there are no families or marriage.

    Make of that what you will.

  6. sam brown on August 30, 2005 at 9:58 am

    There are a few items that should be addressed on this topic.

    1. Joseph Smith himself commonly used such phrases in reference to Emma, even as he was advancing the doctrine of eternal marriage. One could argue that he was just stressing that she had not complied with the sealing, but it’s not entirely clear.

    2. Joseph Smith and his colleages, as Gordon Hinckley, made much of the distinction, whether charitably or not isn’t clear.

    3. Most Protestants actually DO believe that marriage persists in the afterlife. This is called the “modern heaven” or “domestic heaven” and is felt to extend from the Romantic movement, thus overturning the traditional (ie Catholic, church fathers) theocentric heaven which maintains that God’s glory is so great that when we are in heaven we will only have the capacity to attend to God’s glory, and our relationships will pale in comparison with the pure pleasure and holiness of God’s presence. While this remains the standard theological stand, it has probably never been that popular in the pews, and has been effectively erased from lay understandings for at least a couple hundred years.

    4. Mormons actually preach something similar to the theocentric heaven. Witness Russell Nelson’s object lesson from a rafting trip in which he reminds people not to cling to their families but to cling to the Lord. We are counseled that if our spouses are iniquitous they will have the power to restrict our advancement through the heavens, and though divorce is not encouraged, apostasy is generally considered a reasonable cause for divorce.

    5. The Mormon heaven is actually more restrictive than the Protestant heaven. Think about it. For most, the Protestant modern heaven means that every basically reasonable family will be together forever, actually as they were on earth, worshiping God as a family unit. In Mormonism, only the very best of the very best (top tier of the top kingdom) will have the right of eternal marriage; all the rest will be simply out of luck. I think most of us believe that our spouses and children will make it but have serious doubts about ourselves. In the Mormon calculus though, the doubts that we are in fact in the 99th percentile of relative righteousness are by extension doubts about the integrity of our eternal families. (Colleen McDannell makes this point incidentally in Heaven a History)

    6. I’m researching a book on “early mormon theologies of the kindred dead,” and my understanding is morphing substantially the more I immerse myself in the early sources. While my verdict isn’t in yet, I’m beginning to suspect that Joseph Smith’s vision of the eternal family has very little to do with the modern heaven that we currently advertise so prominently in our public relations efforts. While the Protestants anticipate an eternity of joy with their spouses and children, the few that make the mark anticipate the progressive accumulation of worlds, principalities, kingdoms, offspring. The children we are so attached to here will be busy siring/?daming? their own kindreds. Joseph Smith’s heaven, I think, was more about the divine genealogy that united every human with every other human and less about a spousal unit and their 1-12 children, though in his non-theological writings, he clearly couldn’t bear the thought of life without his brothers and sisters, his parents and children (he doesn’t speak much about Emma in that regard for whatever complex reasons). Even Joseph Smith seemed conflicted about this tension between God/the Universe/Law/Eternity and the hungry intimacy of human life. We ought to tread gently in this area.

    7. I love my wife and children with emotions I find difficult to express in words or even fully experience. The stakes are high for all of us.

    8. The current rhetorical use of this idea of eternal vs. temporary marriage is at least a reminder that marriage can be holy and ought to command our energies and desires far more than the _avaritia_ constantly vying to obtund us spiritually.

  7. Last Lemming on August 30, 2005 at 10:16 am

    Personally, I disagree with President Hinckley’s characterization of “til death do us part’ as pronouncing a divorce. I think that any couple that chooses to remain together in the next life will be able to do so. Unless they have been sealed for time and all eternity, however, they will not be able to procreate in the way that God does (whatever way that might be).

    Or, perhaps the inability to so procreate is, in President Hinckley’s eyes, the equivalent of a divorce, and just being together doesn’t really count. I suppose that’s a plausible position, but it probably doesn’t conform to most peoples’ notions of what marriage and divorce mean.

  8. ed on August 30, 2005 at 11:01 am

    Thanks for posting this, Gordon. This is a pet peeve of mine, and you expressed my view quite well.

  9. Ivan Wolfe on August 30, 2005 at 11:26 am

    sam brown -

    I don;t think theological ignorance of the lay members in protestant denominations constitues doctrine, anymore than disbelief in evolution amongst most mormons makes Creationism the “real” doctrine of Mormonism.

    I also met a lot of “uniformed” lay protestants who felt God/Jesus/Holy Ghost were three totally seperate beings. That doesn’t mean that Trinitarism is no longer the official doctrine of Protestantism or “traditional” Christianity.

  10. Mark B. on August 30, 2005 at 11:36 am

    One needn’t even go into the pews of a sparsely populated Congregational church in New England, or the padded theater seats of Joel Osteen’s megachurch, to find the popular doctrine of eternal marriage. Just tune into your local country/western radio station, and half the songs there could be sung at a Mormon wedding.

    Sort of makes you glad there’s no music in the temple wedding ceremony, doesn’t it?

  11. Gordon Smith on August 30, 2005 at 11:46 am

    gst, I admire President Hinckley and revere him as a prophet, but I don’t believe that he has received a revelation every time he repeats a Mormon cliche.

  12. Wilfried on August 30, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    I would tend to nuance the approach of this topic. Yes, caricaturing another religion and speaking with derision of their doctrines is not appropriate. On the other hand, as far as I know, the doctrine of eternal marriage is, in Christianity, quite unique to Mormonism. The phrase ’til death do us part’, in other Churches, implies a divorce since they do not believe in the possibility of a literal continuation of marriage. Why wouldn’t we be allowed to mention that aspect – respectfully but clearly? I’m sure President Hinckley did it that way. When I see with how much derision so-called Christians attack our belief in eternal marriage, the problem is more theirs, not ours.

  13. Nate Oman on August 30, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    In a sense we also believe that death parts a marriage in some significant way. A person who remarries after a spouses death is not committing adultery, regardless of how we think the marriages will be sorted out in the after life. Furthermore, polygamy doesn’t really sort this out completely, as beign married simultaneously to two people will probably get you excommunicated faster than any other action possible. Obviously, death matters.

  14. sam brown on August 30, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    Re: modern or domestic heaven as Christian doctrine.

    a) a variety of churches don’t exclude it credally; it’s fought out in formal theology in most Protestant settings (Catholics, by toeing the line in deference to the church father do credally exclude it) rather than being an “article of faith”.
    b) since when does the belief of the overwhelming majority of religious practitioners not reflect the religion? that’s certainly not the assumption in scholarship on religion.
    c) what about the disjunction between the actual theology of Mormonism (which in its own way is as different from the domestic heaven as the idea of people worshiping God near each other but not paying much attention to each other) and the idea of a nuclear family quietly enjoying the millennia of eternity?
    d) there are important historical threads in Christianity that were put down by the credal mainstream in the struggle of the theocentric vs. domestic heaven, both theological and otherwise that ought not to be disregarded
    e) I heartily recommend the standard scholarly treatment of heaven, _Heaven: A History_ by McDannell and Lang, which contains much material on these topics.

  15. Gilgamesh on August 30, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    “I don’t think theological ignorance of the lay members in protestant denominations constitues doctrine, anymore than disbelief in evolution amongst most mormons makes Creationism the “real” doctrine of Mormonism.”

    Ivan, I agree with you. While I have been to many a funeral where the Pastor noted that “you will be together again,” I take this as a compliment to our faith. In all homest I believe the ideal of eternal families has permeated into other churches (though not officially as doctrine) because they could not compete with the teachings of the LDS church. It makes too much sense and seems rational that families share their loving relationships after this life.

    How can a Pastor, when arguing against our church, state to his family centered parishoners – “and they are wrong, your love ends, you are not together, Christ said you cannot share your love after this life.” I feel that individual pastors have realized we have a truth that they know is true and have altered their teachings to promote it. That way the family friendy Mormons no longer have eternal marriage as a marketing point.

  16. Ivan Wolfe on August 30, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    sam -

    b) since when does the belief of the overwhelming majority of religious practitioners not reflect the religion? that’s certainly not the assumption in scholarship on religion.
    c) what about the disjunction between the actual theology of Mormonism (which in its own way is as different from the domestic heaven as the idea of people worshiping God near each other but not paying much attention to each other) and the idea of a nuclear family quietly enjoying the millennia of eternity?
    .

    I think c) answers b)

    but – if b) holds, are you willing to say that moromon doctrine holds evolution is an evil, pernicous thing?

  17. Adam Greenwood on August 30, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    I like your attempt to be more understanding, Gordon Smith, but I’m going to have to side with Gordon B. at Newport Beach on this one. But the fact that he said it at a temple is significant. When actually talking to Gentile married folk, it will mostly be better to emphasize the commitment they’ve made to each other and their hope that it continue.

    Also, as well as the changes in marriage vows that you mention, part of the modern trend of everyone writing their own marriage vows (bleah!) has been couples taking out the ’till death do us part’ part. They seem to understand it the same way you think Mormons shouldn’t.

  18. Russell Arben Fox on August 30, 2005 at 1:22 pm

    “We are counseled that if our spouses are iniquitous they will have the power to restrict our advancement through the heavens, and though divorce is not encouraged, apostasy is generally considered a reasonable cause for divorce.”

    Whoa there, Sam Brown! I request a prophetic citation, please. I have not heard this. Divorce when there is abuse, yes. Divorce when there is gross wickedness, yes. Divorce when there is active and unrepentant animosity towards the church, especially insofar as such would prevent the faithful spouse from passing on the gospel to his/her children, yes yes yes. But, divorce in the case of apostasy, plain and simple? A loss of faith? Inactivity? Conversion to another church (yes, it happens)? The pain and confusion in such a marriage would be great, but as great as that which a divorce would bring? I am prepared to be corrected on this point, but frankly I find it very hard to believe that God would consider such to be “reasonable” grounds for the shattering of a family.

  19. manaen on August 30, 2005 at 2:25 pm

    17.
    The second time I went through the NB temple’s open house, I was behind a pleasant Lutheran couple that asked whether I were “a Mormon.” Time flew as our conversation lasted the 2+ hours of line, tour, and post-tour reception. They were interested, respectful, and open in their inquiries and the Holy Ghost, as well as the spiritual beauty of the temple and the helpfulness of the volunteers, helped keep our conversation’s tone edifying. Roxy said at the end of the evening that she was going to try the BoM.

    When we talked about eternal sealings vs. ‘til death do us part, they showed no problem with the distinction. We also discussed ways the Church teaches us in this life how to make an eternal marriage something we’d want: they laughed understandingly when I described the old cartoon in which missionaries ask a couple that clearly were at odds, “Wouldn’t you like to be together forever?”

    Like all our standards, I believe it is better to be clear about our distinction of eternal sealing, testify of blessings received from it, and invite the Gentiles to share the joy. After all, our distinctions are the reasons we have the restored Church.

  20. Ann on August 30, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    As far as the idea of a spouse divorcing a faithful, loving apostate…well, I won’t go there. Yeesh!

    I think a more interesting take on the “till death…” statement is that most protestant churches (or Catholic ones) don’t use that phrase. They say “for as long as you both shall live,” which has some very interesting eternal applications. So the mockery of the phrase is not only a silly caricature, but it’s also way out of my observation of the mainstream of what non-LDS religious marriages actually say. If you’re going to make fun of somebody’s practices, at least pick a practice they actually, uh, practice.

  21. Mark B. on August 30, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    If the vicar pronouncing “a marriage and a divorce in the same ceremony” is a Mormon cliche, it may be that Pres. Hinckley was the first to say it. Can a statement be a cliche on its first utterance?

    See Elder Hinckley’s talk in the Friday afternoon session of the April 1974 General Conference. He tells there a story, much repeated since, of his conversation with a young English couple whom he met at the open house for the London Temple (in 1958). Although his words in that talk were “marriage and separation” the point is the same as what bugs Gordon.

    I don’t agree, however, with Gordon’s characterization of the statement as “mockery”. Maybe he just had a bad time in Sunday School last Sunday. The solution to that, of course, is to avoid going to Sunday School as much as possible.

  22. Eric James Stone on August 30, 2005 at 2:40 pm

    I think it does mean what I think it means. While many people of other mainstream Christian faiths may believe they will be reunited with their spouses after death, their churches’ doctrines are at best ambiguous on whether such a reunification is in any way a marriage. Generally, the doctrine is that marriage ends at death.

    As far as I’m concerned, to point out this difference is not a caricature of other people’s religions; it is a factual assessment.

    Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09699a.htm, see section “V. MARRIAGE INDISSOLUBLE EXCEPT BY DEATH.”

    Southern Baptist Faith and Message http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp: “Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”

  23. Jason Kerr on August 30, 2005 at 2:53 pm

    Most Protestants actually DO believe that marriage persists in the afterlife.

    That is news to me. In my life I have had hundreds of conversations with members of other faiths, most were Protestants, about the status of marriage in the afterlife. Not one has ever expressed this belief to me that you claim “most” have. I was under the impression that the doctrine of eternal marriage was a unique LDS belief.

  24. manaen on August 30, 2005 at 3:05 pm

    I don’t believe that marriage and divorce in the same ceremony is Pres. Hinckley’s innovation. I became aware of it in the 60s and it wasn’t treated as news then. I have a recording from 60s-early 70s in which legally-trained Bruce R. McConkie walks us through the concept of being married and receiving the interlocutory decree of divorce at the same time, then waiting until the death of either spouse to receive the final decree.

  25. gst on August 30, 2005 at 3:05 pm

    Mark B. (#21), I think that President Hinckley’s remark I report above in #3 was part of retelling the London Temple story you reference. From his account, he made the remark to those people.

    Hopefully someone will corroborate. This was the last session of the dedication last Sunday.

  26. dennis read on August 30, 2005 at 3:33 pm

    I’ve often wondered what an eternal family will be like. A temporal family is constantly changing, evolving, morphing. Thus, when I speak of “my family,” I have to ask myself which family I am referring to: the family in which I was the child, the family in which I am currently the father, or the family I hope I will soon be in when I become the grandfather? Will eternal families be static, unchanging, or will they be ever-evolving as are temporal families? Is “family” even the most accurate term? Maybe I’m just suspicious of theological doctrines that can be reduced to bumper stickers, but I suspect there’s more here than I for one can comprehend.

  27. Kaimi on August 30, 2005 at 3:41 pm

    Gordon,

    I agree with you. Mormons are quick to jump all over protestants for mischaracterizing Mormon beliefs. We ought to be a lot less eager to characterize others’ beliefs, particularly if it’s done in a way designed just to knock those beliefs down.

    And agreed with Ann as well. Does anyone actually say “till death do you part”? Most marriages say “as long as you both shall live” which is a lot more ambiguous. (After all, eternal life is life).

  28. sam brown on August 30, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    A few clarifications:

    1) I find that Mormonism could fairly be assessed as creationist, however unjustified i think creationism is. Whatever the complex official dogma on the topic, it appears to me that the majority of Mormons are creationist in some sense, and to state that the dogma is actually murkier than all that misses something about Mormonism as lived by its adherents.

    2) Mormons did not “invent” eternal marriage in the sense meant by some posters. Sorry to hammer a point, but a wide variety of Protestant clerics even centuries before Joseph Smith taught the doctrine, as did Swedenborg, who actually had an afterlife even closer to Joseph Smith’s vision, and he wrote about a century before Joseph Smith. Churches are not “imitating” Mormonism when they advocate the domestic heaven which existed long before Mormonism. Application of good old-fashioned parallelogic would suggest that Swedenborg was the model for Joseph Smith’s vision (I’m not making this argument because post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy etc., but i think it’s worth realizing that there are other precedents for this system)

    3) Re: Protestants and eternal marriage, there’s some great survey data I have seen that suggests that the majority do believe in post-mortal reunions of family members. I’m at work, so I don’t have access to my copy of _Heaven_, but as I recall the data is there. Another source is Lewis Saum’s _Popular Mood of America_ books, which include American Protestants anticipating post-mortal reunions with loved ones. I believe there are also data to support this position in Gary Laderman, the Sacred Remains.

    4) I forgot that I had some research documents on my hard-drive at work:
    some specific examples, almost all taken from Heaven: A History

    Philip Nicolai, a late 16th century Lutheran, spoke of family reunions as a key part of heaven, though he excluded sex.
    Jean Jacques Rousseau continued the vision of romantic associations in Confessions and his novel
    Blake (1808) spoke of families reunited for the general Resurrection
    At the turn of the 19th century, Friedrich Schlegel, a German romantic was writing about a romance that would last beyond death, “a timeless union and conjunction of our spirits”
    Samuel Phillips (mid 19th-century Protestant) taught that children would be resurrected, ready to “embrace” the mourning mother “clad in redemption robes.”
    The domestication of heaven after the Civil War was in part driven by literary efforts such as The Gates Ajar by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. Phelps, and many of her peers, saw heaven as not just disjoint loving couples but as extended groups of friends, family, and celebrities
    The idea of heavenly reunions is extremely pervasive in contemporary American and European Christianity (page 309).

    Finally, a confession: I think I realize part of why we’re disagreeing, and though it takes some of the vigor out of my protestations, I think it has to be said. Many Christians believe that love rather than institutional arrangements is what will persist after death. Mormonism does preach a legal contract that binds after death, while for most Protestants, the focus is more on maintenance of loving relationships, so in a sense most of us on this thread are right. The ones who paint other Christians as either ignoramuses or ill-intentioned toward marriage are probably the only ones who seem–to me at least–to be missing the point.

  29. sam brown on August 30, 2005 at 4:22 pm

    re: apostasy and divorce, sorry I dropped a bomb and forgot to address it.
    I will confess that i haven’t read the general handbook in many long years and have only a vague memory of the relevant topic.
    Buried in nineteenth century sources, I sometimes make points based on those documents rather than contemporary practice.
    a) less righteous or gentile men were occasionally tapped in 1840s to liberate their wives for more worthy general authorities. My g-g-g-grandmother Zina Huntington Jacobs Smith Young was an example, Mary Rollins Lightner another.
    b) divorces were frequently granted in brigham young’s utah on the basis of disaffection with polygamy and with the faith
    c) the doctrine is pretty clear in the 19th century revelations that exaltation occurs for spousal groups, and if one’s partner is unrighteous, one cannot make it unless a new partner is found
    d) I see this as subtext in various pronouncements made about the need to place God before family, and early Saints understood Jesus’ injunction to not put family before him in that late. When push came to shove, when they had to choose between spouse and church, they chose church.

    of course, now part-member conversions are considered a potential for conversion of the gentile spouse and to allay fears we commit to keep families together, but when it comes to full on Mormon-hating apostasy, I suspect that most church authorities would agree with divorce, though they wouldn’t necessarily urge it on someone. I certainly agree that minor disaffection or lapses would not result in church-sanctioned divorces in a significant percentage.

    In what I am coming to understand of Joseph Smith’s system, I believe there is strong precedent for divorces of apostate spouses. Remember that “outer darkness” was originally intended for apostates, not just Judas, Stalin, and Hitler, and when you read the revelations closely they seem to be arguing about a glorious chain of devout family members. Though there are controversies about this idea, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for apostates of any description in the eternal Mormon family.

    I wasn’t stating my personal preference. I personally would choose my wife over the church if push came to shove, but that’s not a decision I ever want to have to make, and I could imagine someone trying to counsel me that such a decision was short-sighted, better to try again with a better candidate for celestial glory.

  30. Mark B. on August 30, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    Statements like Kaimi’s “Mormons are quick . . .” give me pause. Which Mormons? All Mormons? Mormons who live in Arizona, New York City, and San Diego? Mormons with German surnames?

    Besides, I’ve yet to see any evidence that any other Christians believe that marriage survives the grave. All of Sam Brown’s references in 28 fit easily into a “we’ll all be together, united in the love of God”–which of course would mean that we’ll know in heaven the people that we knew here on earth. But marriage? I don’t think so–the orthodox Christian runs full on into the standard [mis]interpretation of Matt 22:30 In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage.

    So, sure, heavenly reunions with loved ones. But not marriage. Not that I’ve seen, anyway.

  31. sam brown on August 30, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    Final clarification in light of my confession, and i will stop monopolizing this blogthread.

    For those of you who find that your Protestant friends don’t believe in eternal marriage, I wonder whether you were asking the relevant question. I can easily imagine the following Q&A:

    Q: do you believe marriage is eternal?
    A: No, I mean I don’t think so.

    Q: will you recognize and be with your family in heaven?
    A: Of course.

  32. Eric James Stone on August 30, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    > Most marriages say “as long as you both shall live” which is a lot more ambiguous. (After all, eternal life is life).

    Kaimi, that’s not a reasonable interpretation of the phrase for either Catholic or most Protestant doctrine.

    Imagine Tom and Jane get married for “as long as you both shall live” (which I think is a relatively recent rephrasing, intended to replace the reference to death). Tom dies. Are Tom and Jane still married?

    If they are, then if Jane marries Bill, it’s bigamy. I think it’s pretty clear from both Catholic and Protestant beliefs that Jane is not considered to still be married, so it’s acceptable for her to marry Bill.

    But if post-death, pre-resurrection existence doesn’t count as part of “both shall live,” maybe the post-resurrection eternal life does. Since both Tom and Jane are resurrected, they both live, so their marriage vows come back into force.

    But that leaves us with the question of Jane and Bill, whose marriage vows have also come back into force, since they both live.

    Mormon doctrine accomodates such situations in the framework of eternal marriage, but Catholic and traditional Protestant doctrine handles the situations by saying that Jane is not married to either Tom or Bill — because the marriages ended when one of the parties died.

    In other words, “as long as we both shall live” means the same thing as “till death do us part.”

  33. Eric James Stone on August 30, 2005 at 5:05 pm

    > I think a more interesting take on the “till death…” statement is that most protestant churches (or Catholic ones)
    > don’t use that phrase. They say “for as long as you both shall live,” which has some very interesting eternal
    > applications. So the mockery of the phrase is not only a silly caricature, but it’s also way out of my observation of
    > the mainstream of what non-LDS religious marriages actually say.

    Ann,

    Do a little Internet searching on the phrases “till death do us part” and “as long as we both shall live,” and you’ll find that the former is still considered a valid option for wedding vows. (Unless, of course, all those sites out there that offer sample wedding vows including the former phrase are caricature sites.)

    In a sermon called “Until Death Do Us Part,” a Methodist minister says:

    This week we return to the vows of marriage. Married folks repeat after me:

    “ In the name of God, I take you to be my wedded spouse, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; until death us do part.”

    He later says:

    I no longer use the phrase “Till death us do part” but choose the more positive, “As long as we both shall live”, but the meaning is the same.

    Of course, maybe the A&M United Methodist Church is really just a caricature of actual Methodists. Or maybe, just maybe, the phrase “till death do us part” is not a caricature of others’ doctrine and practice, but a factual representation.

  34. Eric S. on August 30, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    29:

    Thanks for the clarification, Sam. I (mis)read your original post as attributing the “apostasy=reasonable divorce” idea to Elder Nelson. I don’t remember him ever saying that.

  35. Wilfried on August 30, 2005 at 5:51 pm

    As to the Catholic viewpoint, the Mormon belief in eternal marriage is usually condemned and disparaged in no uncertain terms. Look under this Catholic answer to Mormonism (in particular the point about plural heavens). Don’t be surprised at what you will learn about us and how data are twisted and taken out of context…

  36. Mike on August 30, 2005 at 6:02 pm

    Gordon (#11) – Pres. Hinckley making the statement that a civil marriage (til death, etc.) is also a divorce, sounds like it’s based on a revelation already received.

    D&C 132:7 – And verily I say unto you, that the conditions• of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.

  37. Mike on August 30, 2005 at 6:09 pm

    Russell (#18) “I am prepared to be corrected on this point, but frankly I find it very hard to believe that God would consider such to be “reasonable” grounds for the shattering of a family.”

    Is “apostasy” the reasonable grounds for shattering a family, or just a description of how the family was shattered?

    I think God is wise enough to be able to make the judgment of when a marriage ought to be ended and communicate that judgment to the person who needs it and has asked for such guidance.

  38. sam brown on August 30, 2005 at 8:17 pm

    my final post on the topic:

    i got home and found the book. I had misremembered some aspects, but i think the gist is still basically correct.
    there was a 1982 gallup poll that showed that 70% of all Americans (independent of religious affiliation) believe in heaven and somewhere around 30-40% believed that they would be with their families again. Then there was a Catholic magazine poll, and an unspecified if substantial proportion of Catholics believed they would be reunited with their families in heaven. Not a majority in those polls, but still a substantial number.

    Regarding the question of whether family reunions in heaven are the same as marriage in heaven, I have a couple of thoughts. First, what many Mormons basically mean by eternal marriage is that heaven will be spent with spouse and kids. This is certainly the image we portray publicly in our advertising and proselytizing materials. Many of us kind of talk about godhood and creation and worldsmithing, but by that I think we generally mean exaltation rather than specifically eternal marriage. We like the idea of creating worlds with the person(s) we love, but the discussion is basically about the drama of godhood rather than about marriage, which to me at least represents the beauty of time shared with my wife. Exaltation is in a strange sense anonymous, about the _process_ (apologies to the theologians for appropriating that term) of creation rather than the personality of creating, something to which marriage almost seems to be attached. So in a sense, we anticipate and talk about reunion with families as the familiar language of eternal marriage, but we also have this idea of exaltation shimmering beside it.
    Second, the idea of family reunions is still quite different from the theocentric heaven which is the standard theological vision of heaven, and as such is closer to a notion of eternal families than we’re letting on.
    Third (an extension of First, I admit), if you look at this idea of chains of priesthood and everlasting covenants and Orson Pratt’s family tree of exaltation, it makes exaltation sound less and less like families being “together” and more like the endless interconnection of all (righteous) humanity.

    Remember, the song says “We can be together forever,” it doesn’t say, “We’ll all be creating worlds in an intimate, universal community of the blessed.”

    In any case, I appreciate the responses to my embarrassingly long posts. They have helped me think more carefully about these topics.

  39. Nate Oman on August 30, 2005 at 8:25 pm

    Sam: I think that the family-tree of exaltation (if you are referring to the diagram published in the Millenial Star) was made by Orson Hyde rather than Orson Pratt. Mainly a purely pedantic point, but it is worth noting that Pratt had a considerably more theo-centric notion of exaltation and a less individualistic and geneological view of the after life. I agree with a lot of what you are saying, but I think that it is worth noting that Mormon theology is genuinely conflicted about the nature of exaltation. Blake Ostler’s work does more on this, especially his Element essay “Re-visioning the Mormon Concept of God.”

  40. manaen on August 30, 2005 at 10:14 pm

    38
    Sam,

    Jos. Fielding Smith (as quoted in “Doctrines of Salvation”) taught sealing back through the generations to Adam is how we are made part of Heavenly Father’s eternal family. Breaks in the chain then, if not bridged, would leave us on the wrong side of the gap as members of the kingdom/ministering angels, but not sealed into God’s family. We really are saved (exalted) or lost with our dead because they are our entry into this eternal family.

    “We like the idea of creating worlds with the person(s) we love, but the discussion is basically about the drama of godhood rather than about marriage […] we anticipate and talk about reunion with families as the familiar language of eternal marriage, but we also have this idea of exaltation shimmering beside it.”

    (What follows is just playing with questions. It does not even rise to the level of speculation in my mind.) Unless the creation of spirits which we’ll do — assuming we are exalted — is, like Genesis’ account of two creations of the world, a spiritual predecessor to the kind of physical creation for spirits that we now do. Will we be literally Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, creating spirit bodies that intelligences enter before earthly father and earthly mother create bodies that the spirits enter? There might be a type for this in our belief that Heavenly Father and earthly mother combined in Jesus’ conception. How literal then would be Pres. McKay’s image of (celestial) heaven as continuation of the ideal home on earth? If this were true, the idea of exaltation wouldn’t be shimmering (I love your phrasing) beside eternal marriage, but would be its essence.

  41. Gordon Smith on August 30, 2005 at 11:02 pm

    Mike (#36) That seems like the most charitable reading of President Hinckley’s remarks, so I am happy to embrace that. There is an important difference between contrasting a temple marriage and a Protestant/Catholic marriage and “paint[ing] other Christians as either ignoramuses or ill-intentioned toward marriage,” as Sam Brown stated above. My initial post was directed at the latter behavior, and I take it that President Hinckley was engaged in the former.

  42. Mike on August 31, 2005 at 1:40 am

    I must say that, as I have participated in other forums from time to time (both religious and non), I am pleasantly surprised at the cordial tone I find in these posts. I think it’s great that a group of people can discuss and even disagree without engaging in personal attacks on each other (especially in an environment of such anonymity).

  43. manaen on August 31, 2005 at 2:35 am

    18, 20, 29 Apostacy as justification for divorce.

    Russell, regarding your comments:

    “We are counseled that if our spouses are iniquitous they will have the power to restrict our advancement through the heavens, and though divorce is not encouraged, apostasy is generally considered a reasonable cause for divorce.”

    “Whoa there, Sam Brown! I request a prophetic citation, please. I have not heard this.”

    I don’t believe that apostasy is generally considered a reasonable primary cause for divorce unless it becomes or develops an irreconcilable difference. However, it may have been different in the 19th century.

    See this from Pres. John Taylor:

    “There was a very painful circumstance occurred in my office a day or two ago. A certain man had apostatized—indeed, he had been an apostate a number of years; he had two wives, both of whom applied to me to be divorced from their husband. I asked them why they desired to be divorced, and they answered that their husband had apostatized from the Church, and to all appearance would remain in that condition. The husband expressed his sorrow at having to part with his wives, and said he could not help his faith. I told him I did not wish to interfere with his faith, nor the religious views of any man; but that I would much rather see him a believer than a disbeliever. But I explained to him the position that his wives occupied. Said I, when you married them you were a member of the Church, in full fellowship; you believed in God and the order of His holy house. Yes, he said, that is so. I then said, ‘Let me tell you another thing, I have heard Joseph Smith say, and I presume you have—he was an old member of the Church—that in this world we may pass along comparatively unknown, but when we appear behind the veil, we shall have to pass by the angels and the Gods, and this can only be done by the righteous and the pure.’ He stated that he had heard the same thing. I said further, you are the head of this family, and as such you ought to take the lead; but can you lead your wives past the angels and the Gods? No, (I said) you cannot do it, for unless you change your course you will not be there; you have trifled with the things of God, until, as you now see, a serious crisis is commencing to overtake you. The result was, he and they parted by signing the divorce. He said in a feeling way, “I cannot forget my wives, they are dear to me;” and again excused himself on the ground that he could not help his faith. But he might have helped it if he had kept the commandments; but having trifled with the things of God, the Holy Spirit gradually withdrew, at last leaving him to himself. I really felt sorry for the man, and he too felt the position keenly. In parting with him I took him by the hand and said to him, You have put yourself in this position, and I cannot help it. ‘No, he said, you have treated me right. But (I continued) if the time ever comes that I can be of use to you in leading you back in the paths of life, I shall be happy to serve you. He thanked me, and left.” (Journal of Discourses, 24: 171 – 172.)

  44. adrian on August 31, 2005 at 8:12 am

    For the record, as a missionary in Russia, I was told by four or five different people that the Russian Orthodox wedding ceremony binds a couple and children for eternity. I don’t know if that’s “official” Orthodox doctrine, but the couples who had been married in an Orthodox ceremony certainly felt they would be families forever.

  45. annegb on August 31, 2005 at 11:16 am

    You know, the prophet is what–95? He’s an old, old man who does ten times what I do in a day, and I feel really really old myself.

    He’s human, he’s doing the best he can, which most of the time is better than most of us. I think he can be forgiven for the occasional comment that strikes some people wrong.

    I do it every day.

  46. MDS on August 31, 2005 at 11:36 am

    This conversation reminds me of the summer of ’95, which I spent in Oberhausen, Germany as a missionary. Inspired by the recently released Proclamation on the Family and encouragement from my Mission President to use it as a finding tool, I spent most of that summer looking for families who would find the message of eternal families attractive and want to learn more about the church as a result. Almost without fail, the individuals I spoke to said that the concept of eternal families resonated with them and reflected their perceptions of the next life. They did not, however, believe in the necessity of a particular ceremony or covenant to achieve that end. They felt that a loving God would not deny them the opportunity to be with their loved ones. My efforts failed because I was unable to convey the importance of the temple in creating eternal families to so many people for whom the idea made perfect sense.

  47. Space Chick on August 31, 2005 at 1:21 pm

    What a given congregation believes is not necessarily what the church teaches, sorry. If we want to claim that what people believe is what the doctrine actually is, regardless of what’s written down and taught in seminaries, then they should have the church leaders amend the doctrine to reflect popular sentiment, and then everyone can stop being offended that Mormons claim that other churches don’t believe in eternal families. I can only guess that the reason this hasn’t already happened is because leaders in other churches truly do feel that marriages are not eternal, and that they don’t have to change their doctrine based on popular belief. As it stands, just because the majority of members of a particular denomination feel that families and marriage are eternal doesn’t mean that the clergy and doctrine of the church agree, even though they might like to reassure their members on that point.

    People may feel (or intuit) that “love is eternal” and they will want to be with their families in heaven, or it won’t be heaven, but they still need to go through the actions that complete (or seal) that relationship. Even when an unmarried couple living together love each other deeply and feel in their hearts that they are married doesn’t mean it is an actual marriage. Wanting doesn’t always make it so. You have to sign the papers, and get a witness. For non-temple marriages, the same principle applies. You may believe that you will be together forever, but the person conducting the ceremony didn’t have that authority, and in fact may have specifically stated that the marriage is only for “so long as you both shall live.” Wanting it to be eternal doesn’t mean it becomes eternal by virtue of hoping and wishing.

    However, we need to borrow and extend the analogy that both Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Stephen Carter have used. Maxwell reminds us that “[t]rying to comprehend the trials and meaning of this life without understanding Heavenly Father’s marvelously encompassing plan of salvation is like trying to understand a three-act play while seeing only the second act.” And Carter says “You know how second acts go: the hero took on the difficult task in the first act, and now every that can go wrong is going wrong. The second act is always the longest act, because that’s what a story is about, the struggle.” I’m no drama student, but obviously the third act of a three-act play is where everything gets resolved. All the loose ends get tied up, and things get put back to rights. So I suggest we do our best to make it clear that we believe that marriages are only eternal when sealed by the power of the pristhood as exercised by someone with authority. For those families who don’t receive that blessing here on earth, there will be an opportunity to receive it later. Maybe they’re foregoing the benefits they can realize here and now by beginning the process early, but it doesn’t mean that their status is frozen at the moment they die, never to be changed. If it did, we’d also be stuck as we are at the moment we die, regarding our personal failings as well as our understanding of the universe. If we expect to be able to change and grow once resurrected, we need to allow others that same privilege. Which may include setting things to rights regarding sealings, endowments, baptisms, etc.

    Finally, sam brown’s closing words from his first comment in this thread are worth remembering: “…We ought to tread gently in this area…I love my wife and children with emotions I find difficult to express in words or even fully experience. The stakes are high for all of us.”

  48. Kevin Barney on August 31, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    How are eternal families really supposed to work in the LDS calculus? We tend to think of this in narrow terms, as if our own little nuclear family will be off on our own little cloud somewhere. But you are a child of your parents, and your spouse is a child of his/her parents. And your children are going to have little nuclear families of their own, and so forth, in both genealogically descending and ascending directions. We’re all related to everyone.

    So what does it even mean to say that families will be together forever? Doesn’t that essentially entail everyone? And if so, then isn’t it a meaningless concept (or at least a concept with a different meaning than we usually ascribe to it)? Should the focus be on the marriage union, and not on children and parents and so forth? Or is there a way to meaningfully identify discrete families that doesn’t break someone else’s family bonds? (IE if I’m going to be with my wife and kids, how come I’m not going to be with my parents, and how come my kids aren’t going to be with their spouse and kids? And if everyone is going to be with everyone, hasn’t the concept lost some of its luster?)

    I don’t know, just asking.

  49. Olivia_J on August 31, 2005 at 2:07 pm

    I find other religions’ answer to the community after life to be a more palatable and probable one. If the sealing ordinance is “bound on earth as in heaven,” why is there such a high percentage of divorces in the church? And what does that mean for sealings? Are people who are civily divorced but still sealed (and both parties still “righteous”) still going to be together in the eternities? It truly doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

    And it places inordinate pressure on those who cannot, despite their best efforts, find spouses in this life. HOw can it really be better to find someone after death than to marry “until death” to someone not of the LDS faith? Yet such marriages are “second class” in the church and the assumption is that if one *truly* loves one’s spouse, a couple will do everything possible to be sealed in the temple.

    Frankly, I think the whole temple marriage scheme is propaganda designed to keep young Mormons chaste, and to scare them into not “losing their loved ones” after this life. But what sense does that all make? Life happens, and many people who live more than 60 years will likely have been married more than once or even twice. IN the LDS paradigm, this is a tragedy at worst or a puzzle at best. IN the rest of the world, it’s just life, and there are no horrible outcomes if one doesn’t “get married in the temple” to one or the other, or both spouses.

  50. Aaron Brown on August 31, 2005 at 2:47 pm

    Kevin Barney,

    Good question. I’ve addressed it in passing here: http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2005/04/problematizing_.html. As I say near the bottom of the post, maybe “eternal family” theology in Mormonism refers to a “Celestial “Borg” paradigm, in which we’re all assimilated into one big happy Kolob Collective.” Seems inconsistent with the picture we try to paint to our investigators, though.

    Aaron B

  51. ed on August 31, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    MDS: Almost without fail, the individuals I spoke to said that the concept of eternal families resonated with them and reflected their perceptions of the next life. They did not, however, believe in the necessity of a particular ceremony or covenant to achieve that end.

    This was also my experience. On my mission we were also encouraged to use eternal families as a selling point, but to little effect (although in Germany perhaps nothing else would have worked any better).

    I spent some time looking over “Preach My Gospel” (i.e. the new missionary lessons) the other day. I noticed that the idea of eternal families is not stressed. In fact the idea of eternal marriage is not mentioned until the final lesson, which is meant to be presented after baptism. Perhaps church leaders have decided it’s not such a great selling point after all.

    (BTW you can find a line to a pdf of “Preach My Gospel” here.)

  52. Skyler on August 31, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    I always try to give other religions the benefit of the doubt. I challenge you to go ask your non-member friends what they think the line: “till death do you part” means to them. I am sure that many will give the answer that implies eternal seperation. I have asked my sisters boyfriend (born again christian) what he thought it meant. He replied that once he died, he would go to heaven with no memory, or care about earth, but only the desire to worship God all day long. Now, im not sure where he came up with this (i guess he hadnt heard that “what is bound on earth is bound in heaven” etc.), but he being the junior-youth minister at his church, im guessing its not restricted to being solely his belief.

    To address the whole concept of Eternal Families, i can only say this: It has be promised to us, and if we hold up our end we will recieve the blessing, however it will be delieved. we may not comprehend how exactly it will work, but if you are trying to build an understanding of the gospel using humen intellect, you need to realize that we as humans cannot hope to understand or know everything especially the complexities of the gospel. Im reminded of Lehi’s vision when he beholds the large and spacious building, which he refers to as both the pride and the wisdom of the world.

  53. sg on December 2, 2005 at 11:19 pm

    New to the board. Interesting discussion.

    “Personally, I disagree with President Hinckley’s characterization of “til death do us part’ as pronouncing a divorce. I think that any couple that chooses to remain together in the next life will be able to do so. Unless they have been sealed for time and all eternity, however, they will not be able to procreate in the way that God does (whatever way that might be).”

    Last Lemming,

    I am trying to understand (1) why you disagree with President Hinckley’s comments at a temple dedication, presumably given under the influence of the spirit; (2) why you think that any couple that chooses to will be able to remain as husband and wife in the next life. (See below.)

    Gordon,

    Similarly, it must be tough to have to decide which of President Hinckley’s statement you will accept and which you will reject: “I admire President Hinckley and revere him as a prophet, but I don’t believe that he has received a revelation every time he repeats a Mormon cliche.” I operate under the assumption that when he preaches a public sermon at a temple dedication he speaks the will of the Lord. Further, he is not repeating a Mormon cliche. His statements are a reaffirmation of the teachings of earlier prophets, including Joseph Fielding Smith:

    “In both of these kingdoms [terrestrial and telestial] there will be changes in the bodies and limitations. They will not have the power of increase, neither the power or nature to live as husbands and wives, for this will be denied them and they cannot increase.”

  54. LisaB on December 3, 2005 at 8:32 am

    I think an Last Lemming’s interpretation is plausible, even as a reading of the Joseph Smith quote. We do believe that the “same sociality” will exist between persons as exists here. Sounds like relationships have the potential of being on-going with or without sealing, and procreative power could be the distinguishing feature of exalted marriage. The distinction of being “single” is usually described in terms of not being able to have children.

  55. sg on December 3, 2005 at 8:31 pm

    Even if the same sociality exists there as a general rule, the more specific rule as it relates to marriage has been simply taught. They “will not have the . . . power or NATURE to live as husbands and wives.” Clearly, a change will occur such that marriage will not be part of the nature of beings in the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms. Procreative power does not define the marriage relationship; there are many couples who cannot procreate that are married. Moreover, there are many married couples that cannot have sex. Those facts to define whether or not they are married.

    I don’t understand the need to out-think the prophets on this one or to twist the plain and precious truths they teach. Why bend over backwards to reach the conclusion that people will be able to be married in the telestial and terrestial kingdoms?