What do we mean by “families are forever”?

November 16, 2009 | 45 comments
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Over at my other blog, a reader posted the following question:

On a related LDS family matter, many of us have been confronted by Mormon missionaries with a message, or even a free DVD, of “Families are Forever.” A sincere, respectful question: isn’t this motto a solution in search of a problem? That is, what Christian believes there is separation or division among the blessed in heaven? Of course, Jesus himself teaches in extremely plain and simple terms, and Christian history has always held, that there is no marriage in heaven as we know marriage. But, shared Christian belief realizes that the communion among believers in heaven results in a bond significantly greater in love than what we perceive in our knowledge of marriage. That bond is a consequence of the everlasting worship and praising of God. Why wouldn’t God be the focus of any discussion involving the word “forever”?

Here’s what I answered:

As far as the “families are forever” motto, it is often communicated as a fairly bland traditional family values message to which few people would take exception. (Indeed, that’s part of its purpose: in addition to the overt message about the importance of families, there’s the public-relations message that Mormons are not strange, we share much in common with mainstream family culture, etc.) Mormons seem to have internalized and institutionalized the traditional family values message to a greater extent than other groups, however: compared to national averages, Mormons have less pre-marital sex, marry more and younger, divorce less (among temple-married Mormons, at least), have more children, and subscribe to more traditional gender roles. (One sociologist called these the “Four Cs” of Mormon family life: chastity, conjugality, child-rearing, and chauvinism.)

As you’re aware, of course, there’s a much deeper theological basis to the “families are forever” theme. In Mormon teaching, marriage (and parenthood, which is entailed in marriage) is the primordial social institution, and the only social institution that will persist in the hereafter. Because of its inherent capacity for procreative “enlargement,” marriage is central to the Mormon vision of eternal life and exaltation. It’s not that exaltation is necessary to qualify for eternal marriage, however, rather that eternal marriage is necessary for exaltation (although that marriage does not always occur during mortality). In that sense, Mormons understand the teaching that families are forever to reinforce—not compete with—the glory of God’s majesty.

Thoughts?

45 Responses to What do we mean by “families are forever”?

  1. manaen on November 16, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    [embarrassing unintentional double-entendre edited out of original post, thankfully]
    .
    Ummh… well… that is…

  2. Rosalynde Welch on November 16, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Oh my goodness, you are totally right, LOL! Okay, that is getting deleted. Thanks, Manaen! (red-face)

  3. Aaron on November 16, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    One thing that has always puzzled me is the definition of “family.” In mortality, that is something that changes over time. Is my family the one I was a child in, or the one I am a parent in, or will it be the one — I hope — I will be a grandparent in?

  4. MoHoHawaii on November 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    My favorite bumper sticker, sometimes seen in Utah, reads “Families Seem Like Forever.”

    : -)

  5. Rory Swensen on November 16, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    [Mormons] marry more and younger

    Well, yes, we used to, at least until OD1. ;)

  6. manaen on November 16, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    3. Is my family the one I was a child in, or the one I am a parent in, or will it be the one — I hope — I will be a grandparent in?
    .
    I like Joseph Fielding Smith’s explanation in one of the volumes of “Doctrines of Salvation” (I’ll try to remember to post the reference later). He said that the sealing ordinance binds us to our ancestors back through the generations and finally to Adam, then to God. Gaps caused by unworthy or unaccepting generations would be bridged. This is how the dead need us and we need them: they become our connection to God’s one eternal family and we perform the ordinances that bring them and us into it.
    .
    My sense of it is that this may be one reason why baptism gains for us entry into the Celestial Kingdom but we need our sealings to enter into its highest level: we have to become part of God’s family to become joint-heirs with Christ. To me, this also is part of the oneness for which Jesus prayed as he worked out the at-one-ment in Gethesemane.
    .
    In this light, the answer to your question is, “Yes.”

  7. pauli on November 16, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    F’s are F, is a doctrine more easily assented to by faith than understood by reason. As my p’hood instructor said the other day, “The lesson asks us to consider Joseph’s restoration of the sealing power which makes eternal families possible. I should like to begin the lesson by asking why, exactly, we would want to be bound forever to someone we can’t get to move out of our basement.”
    We concluded the lesson with the settled judgement that no child or in-law would be permitted to live within 1 billion light years, that being the exact distance of civility and tolerable pleasantness. Some were prepared to testify to this distance, but the HP group leader quickly closed the meeting.
    Presumably, most families will have had their dysfunctionality purged by the time “what about the neighbors?” becomes a consideration. Still, it is not easy to look forward to any more wars in heaven, and those agency constraining proposals which generated such violence previously, seem more reasonable to both experienced parents and certainly many grandparents. Why should reducing my children’s agency by 60 percent, have hurt them, given the quantity of destruction they’ve wrought? A reduction would certainly have helped me, and 40% volitional power is more than enough to see what kinds of choices they would make. Of course, I would lower every family’s kids’ volitional power by much more than 60 percent.

    Forever brings smiles, at one billion miles,

    says Pauli the dog.

  8. Rosalynde Welch on November 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Aaron, I think the husband and wife are the core eternal family, at least that is certainly the surface reading of D&C 132. One way to visualize it might be to think of each marriage as a node connected to an ever-expanding network of kin by parent, child and sibling bonds.

  9. Bro. Jones on November 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    As I’ve always said, usually to the horror of my born-in-covenant Sunday School classmates, a heaven in which I’m located close to my parents (and they to each other) is no heaven at all.

  10. Alison Moore Smith on November 16, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    I also have a favorite families are forever bumper sticker. :)

    manaen, I like that reference as it most closely fits my line of thinking about the subject over the past few years. But why the heck is it buried in D of S? After all my years with Mormon Momma (coming on seven years this January), the sealing is probably the single most common recurring issue.

    Of course, it’s more problematic for women. Just this past week we’ve been having yet another discussion about the ramifications for women who were married in the temple and had kids, only to have their husband turn into a creep.

    The consensus, as usual, was that we sure wish someone “on high” would come up with some clarifications.

    Rosalynde, the definition is romantic and all, but I have no idea how that fits in with the current practice in the church. Unless you mean the core eternal family consists of husband and wife and wife and wife.

    And if someone wants to try to explain to me why DEAD women can be sealed to multiple husbands, but LIVING women can’t, I’m all ears.

  11. Rosalynde Welch on November 16, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Alison, by “current practice” you mean the fact that men can be sealed to more than one woman, polygamy-like? In that case, yes, my impression is that the original LDS understanding of polygamy was that each marriage was a separate entity. So a man with six wives was a party to six different marriages, not a single marriage with seven parties. Six different nodes in the network, if you like.

  12. Nathan on November 16, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Rosalynde, what do you mean by your assertion that “marriage is the only social institution that will persist in the hereafter”? This seems incredibly limiting of human sociality. Human social relationships take on a multiplicity of forms that not even religion can encompass. Does sociality need to be “institutionalized”? It seems to me that true human social bonding serves as its own seal, and that traditional marriage is woefully inadequate in fulfilling one’s every social need. Indeed, it doesn’t even pretend to.

  13. manaen on November 16, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    12.
    .
    Here’s my answer to your question — I’ll leave Rosalynde to answer for herself.
    .
    6. And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant [i.e. what we call "eternal marriage"], it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.
    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 [...] 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.

    – D&C 132:7

  14. Rosalynde Welch on November 16, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Nathan, very interesting questions, thanks for the comment. To be clear, I was trying to summarize church teaching about eternal marriage, not necessarily recommend my own views. With “marriage is the only social institution that will persist in the hereafter” I was thinking of the language in D&C 132 about all “covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations” passing away if they are not sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.

    I agree with what you say about human social behavior taking many forms—some of the directly shaped by institutions, and some only indirectly so. (I think I’m enough of a social constructionist to argue that all kinds of human interaction are shaped at least indirectly by social institutions and their ideologies.) I don’t think the language of D&C 132 precludes this proliferation of human relationality either here in mortality or in the hereafter—after all, there’s the language in D&C 130 about “the same sociality,” etc. But my reading is that marriage is the only social institution that will continue uninterrupted, linking time with eternity.

  15. Rosalynde Welch on November 16, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    manaen beat me to it!

  16. manaen on November 16, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    10.
    .
    But why the heck is it buried in D of S?
    Thanks for helping me feel my age — when I first read that in the early/mid 1970′s, D of S was a front-line source.
    .
    And if someone wants to try to explain to me why DEAD women can be sealed to multiple husbands, but LIVING women can’t, I’m all ears.
    My understanding was that being tied to one husband was bad enough for a woman that being saddled with multiple husbands actually would be death. Does that help?

  17. Julie M. Smith on November 16, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    manean, FTW.

  18. Bryan Read on November 16, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    There’s always the LeGrand Richards article from 1974 laying out the teaching of eternal marriage from the Bible… http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=6195d2b9ae76b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1

  19. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    The problem with explaining the LDS view of eternal families to other Christians is that many of them have a very different conception of heaven and the afterlife. Specifically, many, if not most, Christians are very fuzzy on the Resurrection being a physical one, since they see absolutely no use ofr a physical body in what they conceive of as an immaterial hereafter.

    Indeed, when Bishop of Durham N.T. Wright published his book Surprised by Hope a year ago, he was criticized for teaching Mormon doctrine about the Resurrection. Yet he never mentioned Mormons or Joseph smith in his book, and merely looked to the actual language of the Bible, which, he notes, clearly describes resurrected people residing on an earth that has been transformed into a heavenly abode for them for eternity!

    If you think Heaven is being uploaded into the Big Mainframe Computer in the Sky, where you join with everyone else who is saved to contemplate the wonderfulness of God, family togetherness would be an unnecessary activity, since you would be just as close to any other participant in the Godfest.

    However, if you understand that our future destiny is to be resurrected with individual, distinct physical bodies, as will all our family members, then how we relate to those individuals in the eternities can make a difference to us. The LDS teaching is that the order of the Celestial Kingdom will replicate the best parts of this mortal world.

    As for those with repellant relatives, the Church teaches that those who attain the Celestial Kingdom will have undergone a change, and will necessarily be nicer people (or they will be someplace else). If our spouses, parents, siblings and children make it there (not to mention ourselves), they will be much more desirable companions than now, in their (and our) imperfect condition. Frankly, for most of us the most painful parts of our family relationships are the falling short of what we would all desire to have. If we didn’t care about those people, we wouldn’t hurt or be hurt so much. The whole point of making Zion is unity and love. And it starts with the relationships that are most fundamental.

    I think it is pretty clear that our Heavenly Father wants a family relationship with us, and part of achieving that for us is establishing our own families. Our relationship with the Father will be in and through our relationships with our righteous ancestors, right up to Adam. Malachi and Elijah made clear that this “welding link” is essential to our exaltation and the fulfillment of the joy that the Father wants for all his children, offering it to even the most offensive of us. The Father’s problem is not that we won’t move out of his house; it is that so many of us refuse to move back in, despite the ample room. The “great and spacious building” that the world offers as an alternative is a Potemkin Village, a movie set, a facade with no lasting foundation that will collapse, leaving us homeless in the end.

  20. alice munro on November 16, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    #13 Does that mean my best friend and I — the woman I’ve known since I was 6yo, that I’ve known longer than I’ve known my husband (she introduced us when we were in college), the woman whose hand I held as we raised kids together — will be nothing to one another?

    What kind of eternity would that be? Who goes through life with only the nuclear family as an important and sustaining relationship?

  21. alice munro on November 16, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    #19 The planet is already overcrowded! If all these generations (of 2,000 or more years) of resurrected people with actual physical bodies are living on it concurrently for an eternity how hellish would that get?

  22. DavidH on November 17, 2009 at 12:29 am

    While being reunited as families may or may not be an important part of many theologies outside of the LDS Church, it clearly is an important part of folk theology and understanding in many traditions.

    Jewish folk singer Marc Cohn’s beautiful love song, “True Companion” ends this way:

    “Then when i leave this earth
    I’ll be with the angels standin’
    I’ll be out there waiting for my true companion
    Just for my true companion
    True companion”

    http://popup.lala.com/popup/360569453762726232

    Contemporary Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman’s moving song about seeing his young daughter again in heaven includes:

    “Heaven is the place where she takes my hand
    And leads me to You,
    And we both run into Your arms.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9JTwJ_1lzE

    Arguably Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” has as a theme being reunited with his young son.
    http://popup.lala.com/popup/360569462349716078

  23. DavidH on November 17, 2009 at 12:37 am

    I am no Islam expert, but as near as I can tell Islam (or at least some variants) teaches that families will be together in paradise/heaven, and even if different family members are assigned to different levels of paradise, they will still be together (the lower level member will be raised to be with the one he or she loves). http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?cid=1119503549346&pagename=IslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar/FatwaE/FatwaEAskTheScholar

  24. Cameron Nielsen on November 17, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Nice comments here. I think one thing members forget, or at least use incorrect language when discussing, is that families are not forever unless our covenants and maintenance of these special relationships merit those blessings through the Atonement and the Priesthood. This is also an important thing to communicate to non-members who accept it naturally as a given. The song goes, “families can be together forever.”

    I also think the marriage ‘node’ analogy is a correct one, and although marriage won’t be the only relationship in the hereafter, it will be the primary one. As a young father I am just being exposed to this new perspective of my parents being ‘brother and sister,’ although they will always have the honor of being my mortal parents.

  25. grego on November 17, 2009 at 2:49 am

    #10 AMS,

    (Trying to say this in a down-to-earth, yet empty of any negative feelings or intentions… What follows might seem banal, but then, it might just be simple and child-like…)

    Is the hang-up that LDS women *want* multiple husbands, or that women don’t think it’s fair that men can have multiple wives–maybe because women see themselves as such wonderful blessings? Or something else, like God’s unfairness or bias?

    Is it that if there is another wife, somehow the relationship won’t be good/ will be less than if there weren’t/ enough time/ etc.–such as when there is more than one child in a family? (Doesn’t seem like that’s fair to the firstborn, either, to suddenly have another child enter into the family without his/her consent…)

    Do you believe that Heavenly Father and Jesus love you?

    Do you believe that they would ever do anything to hurt you?

    Do you believe there might be a purpose in this, beyond what we now understand?

    Do you believe that if there somehow really were a 6:1 or 3:1 ratio of women to men in eternal marriages, would it be fair to the other 5 or 2 to not have eternal mates, if they were worthy of it? What if they did all they could to get married, but didn’t have success; but another woman blessed with outer beauty–for little reason of her own–got married mainly because of that? Where is *their* promise? If a woman were too selfish to give place, would it be appropriate for her to “be replaced” so that others could receive?

    There can be all kinds of apprehension about “the future”. Perhaps the words of Jesus fit well: “[worrying about today is enough]“.

    Can you understand “no time” and what it really means? Can you imagine yourself living in a “no time” zone?

    Do you know the purpose of multiple wives? If you couldn’t understand the purpose even if were explained, might it even make things worse?

    What if there were reasons, linked to characteristics of natures of eternal intelligences or other eternal laws that God has to abide with–not just because “God likes multiple wives, so He wants His sons to have them, too” or something like that–that it is so?

    What if in the beginning, there was a group that constituted a group, such as four females and one male (think “Vitamin C”, for microbiologists), and that spirit birth was a separation of that group, and eternal marriage a “reformation”; or such?

    You know that that’s what’s going on here, in this “existence” we are a part of. Do you believe that this was completely isolated in the past, and will be completely isolated in all ways in the future, and that only what has been revealed will be, notwithstanding there might be more?

    Do you believe that Jesus Christ suffered for your suffering and worrying, *including* that your husband might have more wives in the celestial kingdom?

    When it gets down to the marrow of the matter with some women, the way I see it:
    if you get to the celestial kingdom, you can leave if you don’t like it, such as if your husband has another wife.
    if you don’t get there, you can’t go, such as if you suddenly find out everything makes sense/ is fair.

    As to this:
    “And if someone wants to try to explain to me why DEAD women can be sealed to multiple husbands, but LIVING women can’t, I’m all ears.”
    Here’s a try: Referring to genealogy, where in life the woman was married to more than one man–since the woman will be eternally married to one, but we don’t know which one, she is sealed to all of them; only one, however, will be valid.
    Think of it like getting a coupon for any free ride in an amusement park; any in the park are ok, but you can only redeem it on one ride.

  26. grego on November 17, 2009 at 4:13 am

    #19 Raymond said: “As for those with repellant relatives, the Church teaches that those who attain the Celestial Kingdom will have undergone a change, and will necessarily be nicer people (or they will be someplace else). If our spouses, parents, siblings and children make it there (not to mention ourselves), they will be much more desirable companions than now, in their (and our) imperfect condition.”

    No need to wait for a long time for much of that: just death–getting rid of our mortal bodies–will do a whole lot for most of us.

    Imagine… no chemicals or toxins, no chemical problems (many emotional problems), no allergies (which are involved in many more situations than most could even imagine), no malfunctioning organs, no out-of-whack (or even functioning) hormones, no improper mineral lack or imbalances, no stress? (at least from certain sources), sensory malfunctioning, no dehydration(?), no lack of sleep, etc. (Not sure about electro-magnetic problems, but I imagine they won’t affect us much, either.) That will lessen a whole bunch of problems.

    Then we’d just be left with perception and personality problems–at least, the ones that aren’t based on “mortalness”.

    And I’ll bet many of those problems will fall fast in the Spirit World, too…

    Interestingly, so far it is certain that at least some negative memories are stored physically encapsulated in the body (in crystal form, near acupuncture points–see “Body Electronics”). When the body is resurrected, everyone will have a perfect memory; and it’s possible that faith in Jesus Christ and repentance will determine, to a degree, the amount of remaining negativity in our bodies. Sorry, just speculating a little right here… ;)

  27. Jettboy on November 17, 2009 at 11:28 am

    The idea of eternal families is a concept that is actually foreign to Christianity in the past. Most official theology disavows the need for marriage and family as anything more than a mortal necessity for procreation. The questioner answers their own question with, “there is no marriage in heaven as we know marriage,” and, “the communion among believers in heaven results in a bond significantly greater in love than what we perceive in our knowledge of marriage.” Once dead, such relationships will cease and only a total devotion to G-d or eternal Torture of the damned will remain.

    The Mormon idea of Eternal Family is that we are not subsumed into some vast love fest with no boarders and purpose. We will recognize ourselves as individuals with significant relationships. It is true that we will all be tied into the Family of Heaven as one Celestial group, but that will not take away devotion to others. It is the difference between group submission and personal identity.

  28. Ellis on November 17, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Women can be sealed to more than one man when they were married to two or more men during their lifetime and not at the same time. When their descendants want to have them sealed to someone and they were not sealed during their lifetime and no one knows what their preference is then they can be sealed to each man. It will then be up to the woman to choose which of the sealings is valid based on her preference.

    I have a great grandmother who was sealed to her first husband. After that marriage dissolved she was married again but never sealed to the second. Her children by the first marriage want her to be sealed to her first husband and those by her second husband want her sealed to him. So each family is doing what they want done even though the original sealing was never canceled. So because of a family myth that there might have been a civil divorce which they claimed to have made the original sealing invalid she is now sealed to two men.

    In short women who are dead are only sealed to more than one husband when their children and grandchild either don’t know her preference or don’t like her preference and want to do something different. They will not continue through eternity to have more than one husband.

  29. Rosalynde Welch on November 17, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    “It will then be up to the woman to choose which of the sealings is valid based on her preference.”

    Brings a whole new meaning to “pro-choice”, no? For the record, I don’t know that this is actual church teaching. Can anybody else confirm? I’ve always chalked this kind of thing up to the inability of any single institution to contain the polymorphous imperative of human reproduction. “God will work it out” is sort of the only way to cope with it.

  30. Rosalynde Welch on November 17, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Jettboy, you wrote, “It is the difference between group submission and personal identity.”

    I take your point, and it’s a good one, but I don’t think I would put it so starkly. Yes, indeed, the notion of the human intelligence co-eternal with God, and our extremely detailed and personal picture of the afterlife both emphasize the persistence of the individual. But at the same time, there are strong collectivist and authoritarian elements in Mormon teaching that work against an individualistic, democratic vision of the afterlife. These collectivist/authoritarian motives are concentrated in the idea of Zion, which is, after all, a sort of trial run of heaven on earth. And I think the teaching that marriage (a kind of cooperative blending of identity) is necessary for exaltation introduces an important element of the “communal love fest” and its dissolution of alienation and individuality.

    As usual, I’m left wondering whether Mormon teachings are a brilliant synthesis of antithetical elements, or an incoherent jumble of the same. :)

  31. mjp on November 17, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Rosalynde:

    You wrote:

    As usual, I’m left wondering whether Mormon teachings are a brilliant synthesis of antithetical elements, or an incoherent jumble of the same. :)

    Brilliant, your synthesis of the conundrum I mean.

  32. Raymond Takashi Swenson on November 17, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Alexander Campbell rejected the Book of Mormon because it was too good to be true, solving the biggest religious conundrums of the early 19th Century. He expected scripture to be obscuring and mystifying, not revealing and clarifying.

    Given the choice, I will go with Mormon jumbles/syntheses in preference over the traditional creedal notion of the Trinity that incorporates a material Son with a resurrected physical body into an immaterial whole, in which there are three distinct individuals but all of one “substance”, which loves mankind enough to send its “Son” to suffer and die for us, but does not really feel emotions, who is omnipotent and saving but unable to bridge the gap between creatures and Creator, who could save all mankind but prefers to condemn the majority to infinite suffering mainly because of innocent ignorance.

    I see many Christians of all varieties who recognize the inherent injustice in some of the traditional tenets, and have been trying over the last century to reformulate their theology, such as in the rejection of Limbo for unbaptized infants, and the expressed hope for some form of salvation through Christ even for those who never hear the message of salvation through Christ in mortality. The Open God theologians believe the Bible rejects the unfeeling Aristotelian Prime Mover model of God, and feel that the traditional model has alienated Christians from God for millennia. I see these people using the Bible and logic to grope toward answers that were revealed, whole, to Joseph Smith.

    There is poignancy in the struggle that Christians have had through the ages to try to understand God and his justice and his love and the reasons he created mankind. Mormons, having so many of the answers handed to them, may not have as much appreciation for the value of those answers because they have not experienced what it is like to not have them. Perhaps one of the benefits of being encouraged to share the Gospel with others is to understand what it is like to not have so many of the plain and precious things that we take for granted.

    Just think about the difference it makes in your marriage and parenthood to believe that the people in your life can be your companions through the next billion years, to infinity and beyond. How does it affect how you treat them, what sacrifice you make for them? This is not to say that non-Mormons don’t love their families as much as Mormons, just that their theology does not support the priority of that love. I suggest that part of the Light of Christ we each carry with us into mortality includes that sense of the eternal potential of our closest relationships, a yearning that is manifest in our creative endeavors, even though it gets no encouragement from most conventional theologies. Mormon doctrines embody and reify a yearning that most people feel for continuation of their closest personal relationships. Joseph Smith taught that these feelings reflect and reverberate the love of God the Father for us.

  33. Travis on November 17, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Sorry that I’m coming late to the discussion, but this post raises a number of questions I’ve mulled over through the years.

    First, along the lines of the original question put to Rosalynde, it seems to me that even under basic Mormon doctrine, a family could arrange to be “together forever” by simply coordinating their level of righteousness so that they ended up in the same kingdom. As I understand it, the only thing that might actually separate a family would be getting stuck in different kingdoms. Am I missing something? If not, I suspect that the PR benefits (like what Rosalynde noted in her original post) drive the simplified message “families are forever”, even though it doesn’t convey a fraction of what Mormon doctrine really means for families. There must be something else to justify our emphasis on the sealing ordinance than just “being together for a really, really long time.”

    Second, the most powerful doctrinal justification (as far as I can understand) for eternal marriage is the binding of a man and woman together in a way to allow for the “procreative enlargement” Rosalynde mentions so artfully. But what is the benefit then of sealing children to parents? The only significant rationale I’ve heard is that there is some special promise for parents whose children are sealed to them that their wayward children may be somehow “brought back into the fold”. While sweet, this seems highly suspect to me. It just seems to offend the core gospel principles of agency (they’ll be brought back even if they don’t choose to come?) and fundamental fairness (so the wayward child of a single mom who’s just as righteous won’t receive the same benefit, only because of the absence of the mother’s sealing?).

    Third, why do we really care about all of the generations on the earth being linked together anyway? We talk about this a lot in the Church, but it never really seems to me that we can come up with a reason why it matters. I don’t have a problem with it, but the idea strikes me as more of a symbolic thing and a nice way of talking about humanity as a family.

  34. DavidH on November 17, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    As I understand it, current policy is that following her death, a woman is sealed to all her husbands (including those from whom she was divorced). If she was sealed in this life, her sealing to other husbands does not take place until after both she and her sealed husband are dead. I do not know of any clarification or teaching that only one of those sealings will be valid in the hereafter (that she or someone must choose).

  35. Travis on November 17, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    I’ll add a comment to my 3 questions above. The general theme in my questions is that I suspect that there are more important, core reasons for the sealing ordinance than those we talk about (or publicize ceaselessly) in the Church. And I think it likely doesn’t have much to do with “being together forever”. I suspect it has something to do with binding two people together in a way that enables them to achieve exaltation—literally to become like our Heavenly Parents and do the things that they do (including, but not limited to “procreative enlargement”). But we understand so little about this that it’s almost pointless to talk about it. I’m left with the fundamental impression that the sealing ordinance is absolutely essential to my eternal progression and happiness, but not for the reasons that we talk about at Church, and I’m unable to articulate anything more concrete or cogent than that fundamental impression.

    I would really love to hear thoughts from people out there that have been better able to tease apart these ideas.

  36. Mark D. on November 17, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Can’t say I see any necessary contradiction between the idea of robust individuality and a Zion society. The Catholics call it subsidiarity. There is a balance to be found.

    For the same reason I believe it is premature to conclude that heavenly society is based on the authoritarian brand of collectivism. Historical expedients notwithstanding, the idea of stewardship is deeply embedded in our doctrine as the counterpart of consecration, and if stewardship isn’t another name for subsidiarity, I don’t know what is.

  37. Alison Moore Smith on November 18, 2009 at 1:01 am

    Rosalynde Welch #11

    … my impression is that the original LDS understanding of polygamy was that each marriage was a separate entity. So a man with six wives was a party to six different marriages, not a single marriage with seven parties.

    And what is our current understanding? Is it any different?

    manaen #16

    My understanding was that being tied to one husband was bad enough for a woman that being saddled with multiple husbands actually would be death. Does that help?

    Only if it “helps” when men say, “Hey, I don’t want polygamy. One wife is more than enough.” In other words, no! :)

    grego #22:

    Is the hang-up that LDS women *want* multiple husbands, or that women don’t think it’s fair that men can have multiple wives–maybe because women see themselves as such wonderful blessings? Or something else, like God’s unfairness or bias?

    Maybe the hang-up is that you think my questions are a “hang-up,” rather than valid questions.

    Is it that if there is another wife, somehow the relationship won’t be good/ will be less than if there weren’t/ enough time/ etc.–such as when there is more than one child in a family? (Doesn’t seem like that’s fair to the firstborn, either, to suddenly have another child enter into the family without his/her consent…)

    Children are not commanded to cleave to their parents. They are commanded to LEAVE them in order to “become one” with their spouse. What would your reaction be if YOU were cleaving to your wife alone and SHE was out courting other men to bring home?

    Do you believe that they would ever do anything to hurt you?

    It’s funny how questions about polygamy almost inevitably turn to questions like this. Let’s see if you’re REALLY faithful. Let’s see if you can give the appropriate Primary answer.

    I have just one response. Recently Elder Holland said that he PRAYED that blacks could get the priesthood for years before it occurred. Would you ask him the same questions?

    Referring to genealogy, where in life the woman was married to more than one man–since the woman will be eternally married to one, but we don’t know which one, she is sealed to all of them; only one, however, will be valid.

    Got a source for that?

    For the record, I do know of two cases (one personally) where living women were sealed to a second man without the first sealing being canceled. They both received first presidency permission to do so. (I assume there are other such cases.)

    Seems to me if God can “sort this out” for dead women, he can sort it out for women who aren’t dead yet but will be dead when it needs to be sorted.

    It was actually years ago when I read one of Card’s Ender’s Game sequels that I started thinking of the sealing as less about the parents permanently linked with kids in an endless, massive group hug. He describes something about a web linking people. And it seemed to make more sense to me that somehow (for some reasons) we need to be tied to each other.

    Jettboy, funny. My husband always says, “We won’t be resurrected into the Borg.”

  38. Earl on November 18, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Forever, but for whom…?

    As with many political and religious endeavors, such as with universal health-care, the devils are in the details.

    Such terms as exactness, strickness, quickness are being used more and more over the LDS pulpit to describe the degrees of adhence to LDS gospel perfomance standards… standards which qualify an individual for exaltation and particpation in an eternal family.

    While grace remains part of LDS salvation theology, the term “grace” is now being used in the context of “the enabling power” to help the member achieve the aforementioned high hurdles of exactness, strickness, and quickness. President Faust taught that grace itself must be purchased or earned: “After all we can do to pay to the uttermost farthing and make right our wrongs, the Savior’s grace is activated in our lives through the Atonement, which purifies us and can perfect us.”

    Despite the translation slant in Matthew 5, the pursuit of perfection remains a continuing pulpit favorite.

    If the fullness of joy is to be found within the fullness or the completeness of a family reunited in the eternities, what is the likelihood that all (or many) will be able to meet the heroic and pious performance standards currently being required? And then, what of those brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who miss the mark? Sorry, another Kingdom for you.

    The foreverness of LDS families is a sharp and eternally painfull two-edge sword. The members of the tidy families found in Ensign articles somehow all seem to encounter the “then I came to realize” moment in the nick of time and foreverness for all is assured.

    Yet, the struggles of life and righteousness are frequently fought in the middle, often vacilating and unresolved, grey zones of weakness, commitment, desire, converstion, and pride. Does this put at risk the foreverness of families? Hard to say.

    Consider…

    The outwardly faithfull, socially converted, TR carrying, seated on the stand member who for years has been unable or unwilling to get beyond…[one or more]

    [1] Constant arguing with his/her spouse.
    [2] A cup of coffee in the morning at the office.
    [3] The Boy Prophet was a brilliant and sincere religious reformer, but nothing more.
    [4] The BoM has many truths, but is not historical.
    [5] Happy to be a good LDS parent, raising Seminary attending children, and serving when called, but unwilling to take on a older-couple mission.
    [6] A social temple attender, but is still at odds (freaked-out) with the ritual.
    [7] With limited success continues to come to terms with lapses in personal righteousness. Seeking forgiveness and closeness with Christ, but then for months or years – just drifting along being a visible, active, social ward member.

    Years ago, the Ladies Home Journal had a monthly article, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Should the Ensign carry a similar article, “Is This Family… Forever?”

    The increasing heroics of contemporary LDS theology regarding the process of eternal salvation make foreverness of complete families, a more elusive goal.

    Earl

  39. grego on November 18, 2009 at 9:29 am

    #34, Alison,

    A better source than I would likely be the temple president, or even better, his source.

    “For the record, I do know of two cases (one personally) where living women were sealed to a second man without the first sealing being canceled. They both received first presidency permission to do so. (I assume there are other such cases.)”

    Interesting. Based on permission must be granted for a sealing to be invalidated, if the husband were excommunicated but did not grant permission to be a jerk/ whatever, especially if the Holy Spirit had never sealed the union, I would have imagined that those who hold the keys of sealing could unseal it (though Doctrine and Covenants 132 only specifies seal and bind, not the releasing).

    “Seems to me if God can “sort this out” for dead women, he can sort it out for women who aren’t dead yet but will be dead when it needs to be sorted.”

    Sure, He could. He could do lots of things, like He could have sent an already-translated BoM to JS, He could have prepared the barges for the Jaredites, He could have swished Lehi et. al. across the desert, He could have told the leaders Mark Hoffman was lying and dangerous, He could just have angels bring all the genealogical records down from heaven and get the job done in a jiffy; but there are reasons, somewhere along the heaven-mortal humans spectrum, probably varying according to the problem and situation.

    “Children are not commanded to cleave to their parents. They are commanded to LEAVE them in order to “become one” with their spouse. What would your reaction be if YOU were cleaving to your wife alone and SHE was out courting other men to bring home?”

    How would you feel if your mother was playing with your baby sister instead of you?
    So it hurts you thinking about that, right?
    Is this cultural? Sure. Is it right or wrong? Coming from the Lord, I have a hard time believing it’s wrong. Could it be incomplete? Who knows?

    “It’s funny how questions about polygamy almost inevitably turn to questions like this. Let’s see if you’re REALLY faithful. Let’s see if you can give the appropriate Primary answer.”

    Absolutely. But not just with questions about polygamy– that’s just *your* bowl of sour pudding–everyone else has their *own* flavor of sour pudding in their bowl.

    Frankly, I can’t help but imagine it would help the Church a lot if Primary answers were lived. (You must have gone to an interesting Primary, as I don’t remember hearing any of what I shared, other than the two questions about love and hurt…)

    I know they are hang-ups for many; how much so, if so, how much so, for you, I’ll leave that up to you.

    Is it a bad question? Absolutely not. Is it a wrong question? I imagine not. Is it bad to want answers and reasons? Usually not. I truly do hope your humble, faithful, patient prayers bring you at least some level of comfort and peace, somewhat like Mariah Pulsipher’s vision: “I then saw in a vision the beauty and glory of plurality of wives.” Who knows, maybe there will be a vision of plurality of husbands…?

    #32, Travis,
    I’m still waiting for anyone (well, at least one of 15) to say something about the key Elias (Abraham’s dispensation) held. I imagine his was a key for sealing marriage and perhaps plural marriage, and Elijah’s key is for the sealing of generation to generation.
    As I said before, there really is so much we not only don’t understand right now, but *can’t*.

  40. June on November 18, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Hi Rosealynde
    I think you answer was excellent except you did not refer to the main point made – Of course, Jesus himself teaches in extremely plain and simple terms, and Christian history has always held, that there is no marriage in heaven as we know marriage. – That was the key to the question and I think that needs the answer

  41. Kaimi Wenger on November 20, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Cameron,

    Thanks for your comments here and on other threads.

    For some reason, our spam filter (which was working overtime, snaring 300 spam comments) flagged you as potential spam. I just released this comment, and three more, from the filter.

    Thanks for your comments, and hopefully the filter won’t do that again. It’s usually very effective, every now and then it gives a few false positives.

  42. Cameron Nielsen on November 22, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks Kaimi. I don’t know how much I contribute to the discussion, but I was confused when I noticed once comment I made didn’t show up. I appreciate you letting me know.

  43. James Olsen on November 23, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    A bit of a latecomer on this thread…

    But, shared Christian belief realizes that the communion among believers in heaven results in a bond significantly greater in love than what we perceive in our knowledge of marriage. That bond is a consequence of the everlasting worship and praising of God. Why wouldn’t God be the focus of any discussion involving the word “forever”?

    I wonder, do the rest of you also see massive differences here between this statement and your beliefs? I wonder if I’m justified in my own perception of these differences as dramatic. But I personally don’t believe in (and in fact downright reject the notion of) “a bond significantly greater in love than what we perceive in our knowledge of marriage.” I see a fundamental difference here being our rejection of the transcendent gap between celestial love and forms of fundamental sociality and earthly ones. Or if there is a gap – one of degree perhaps – we’re not left with odd epistemological problems of how to articulate or acknowledge it; we understand the celestial BECAUSE we experience the earthly here and now.

    Next, I don’t believe my bond with God and other loved ones is a “consequence of the everlasting and praising of God.” Frankly, I’m not sure what this could possibly mean. But I do not believe my relationships are established via my praise of God.

    Finally, there’s a trivial sense in which God is a “focus” of my “discussions of forever”: He’s my father, and together with my mother and savior, and as architect of the whole plan, he’s at least indirectly responsible for or a contributor to my relationships hereafter. He’s a fundamental, ennabling variable that can’t be ignored. But there’s no magic that God does to establish my relationship with my wife. Our exaltation, ennabled by the relevant aspects of the plan of salvation (e.g., the atonement) will come about because my wife and I live a celestial marriage. As Brigham Young said, if the streets in heaven are paved with gold it will be because the Saints go out to the heavenly hills, mine it, and lay down the gold themselves.

  44. msg on November 25, 2009 at 3:51 am

    May I ask a question? Do you men think you are capable of loving more than one woman as a wife? Do you women think you can love more than one man as a husband or do you feel a husband should be your one and only love?
    I’ve always wondered if there’s a difference in how the sexes are wired that way.

  45. grego on November 27, 2009 at 7:36 am

    msg,

    Good questions, I believe there is a difference.

WELCOME

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