As comments go this is a rather belated one, but PA decisions are not up to warp speed either; anyway, the decision is there, timely and adequate. The issue? Some years ago I wrote about the absences in Mormon weddings, zooming in on the visual image of weeping moms at the temple steps. Just picture being the parent of a youngster who just joined the Mormon church and now is married in that large and alluring building, the temple, while you yourself cannot enter and have to miss out on the ‘most beautiful day’ in your daughter’s life. We, in Europe, did not have this problem, since we have a mandatory civil wedding, which has all the trappings of a proper wedding ceremony, and for us the temple sealing is an almost private, in-house ritual that caps the wedding day, or a spiritual high point some days later. Of course, also in the International Church non-member parents of a bridal couple cannot enter the temple, but it is simply not a problem: all concerned are part of the civil ceremony and very present in the reception or dinner afterwards, so they do not have the impression that they miss out on something. The problem lied with the Domestic Church, which laboured under the official rule that a couple had to wait for a year between any civil marriage and the temple sealing. The rationale was that if a temple is present, and if the state acknowledges temple sealing as a legal marriage, a couple should marry in the temple straight away; if not, they were thought to show disrespect for the temple ordinances.
Then came the General Conference of April, which did away with the ‘Policy On eXclusion’, but we had to wait for the marriage issue a little longer. Not in the conference, but just in a First Presidency letter of the 6th of May, the waiting rule was abolished as well: also in the States, and in any other country which acknowledged church weddings as legal, a couple can have a civil marriage first and then go to the temple for the sealing, and not be punished. So congratulations, American Saints, you have now the same prerogatives as the rest of the world! The whole notion of disrespect has vanished; that was just in the eyes of the beholder, I guess, the letter does not mention it. Of course, the focus on the temple does not diminish, as the letter makes perfectly clear, but our argument at the time was that having a civil union first, in fact highlights the religious and covenantal aspects of the sealing. And, my other point holds as well: the format of the sealing as a ritual, is not well suited for a wedding, much more geared at sealing a pre-existing union.
How did this change come about? Well, there has been pressure from the membership, but a special action was a large scale petition originating from Canada asking for exactly this, plus there have been press coverages of, indeed, the ‘weeping moms at the temple staircase’. Public relations wise the waiting rule was a publicity nightmare, for outsiders an absolute proof of the church being a sect, for members an awkward aspect of their membership vis à vis any non-LDS family. So, there have been some ‘whisperings from the dust’ to use another analogue – my rooster wakeup call analogy did not work really well, I guess. Anyway, this is another instance of revelation from below, not as fierce as the PoX one, but appreciated nonetheless.
The conclusion has to be that whatever the official discourse on revelation, revelation comes from two directions, from above and below, and in my view that is a good thing. Throughout the Scriptures we see God listening to his people, and so the church should be led from two directions, both from the official functionaries ‘on high’, and the members themselves: we are the church together, and we have to co-rule the kingdom, from below to above and back again to us. That means we have an obligation to work together in unity, but in our unity to be critical to our leadership, following them with a keen eye for mistakes, errors, even sometimes blunders like the POX. We have to be small voices from below, whispering from the dust all the while keeping a close tab on the world and thus informing our leadership. After all, we as members do have the advantage to be both in the world and beyond it, so the fine tuning of the church to the changing world will for a considerable part on our shoulders. Inspiration follows information, and we have the duty to inform our leaders; church culture does not make that easy, but both decisions show it can be done.
A final thought on the marriage issue itself. One ritual absence remains, I think. The FP letter states that bishops are authorized to use the church, meaning also chapel, for weddings, but advise some restraint in the ritual procedures: not too much, not to extravagant, and certainly not costly. Good thinking, at least in the eyes of this frugal Dutchman. But what is still missing is a ritual format for a wedding-in-the-chapel: some elements to include, some suggestions for the ceremony, the involvement of the congregation in the procedure, what symbols to use: rings, flowers, music, vows, songs, witnesses, and verbal formulas: no hints, no general format of the ceremony. The bishops are still ‘swimming free’. Doing away with the waiting year does bring the chapel wedding into focus, since now it can be part of the official pathway towards a marital union, and, like I argued in the former blog, highlights a ritual at the heart of the wedding. We saw how Joseph was ever busy generating rituals, all of which have been streamlined since. The remaining challenge for our present leadership is to step in those particular footsteps of Joseph and come up with directions for bishops on how to perform weddings; we have formats for all rituals, so why not this one? In that way, the second absence in Mormon weddings could be filled in. I will wait and see, and keep whispering.
Walter van Beek