Mormons Worship Marriage

If this sounds like a bold claim, let me explain what I mean by this. I don’t mean that we don’t worship God. I don’t mean that we don’t believe that Christ was the Son of God. I don’t even mean that deep in our theology still lurks the ghost of polygamy (though there are others who certainly make credible arguments for this). What I mean is that for Mormons, God, however omnipotent, is also subject to the laws of the universe. And these laws are not merely physical laws. There are moral laws, as well, and the law of heterosexual marriage is a deep part of our theology, which is, I suspect, why it seems so completely impossible for us to accept gay marriage or even to conceive of a heaven where gay people are not turned straight before they can enter in.

I was struck recently by the difference between the Catholic Mass and the Mormon temple ceremony and it led me to the conclusion that we worship marriage. Let me explain what I mean more carefully. Catholic Mass to me feels more equivalent to Mormon temple service because both are “high church” events. That is, both are ritualistic ceremonies. They are filled with scriptures intoned by those in authority, and there are special clothes worn by certain people. The ceremony has steps that are always the same, no matter who is in the various roles that are on display. While in the Catholic Mass, it is the “presence” of Christ which is the center of the service, in the Mormon temple ceremony, it is marriage represented by a married couple.

Without talking in too much detail about what Mormons consider to be sacred, let me just point out that the altar at the front of the room isn’t where Christ comes. Instead, it is where a couple who represent Adam and Eve, the first and quintessential heterosexual married couple, kneel. All of those in the room are asked to think of themselves as Adam and Eve, during the temple film and the live portions of the ceremony that this couple acts out. This is the path to heaven. This is how we come closer to God, through marriage. Marriage is the great sacrament of Mormonism.

But in addition to the temple endowment ceremony, which one could argue has individual aspects and which is possible for unmarried people to be part of, please remember that the endowment ceremony is not, in fact, the highest ceremony that we have. That is the temple sealing of a husband and wife to God. It is marriage that is the pinnacle of our theology. That moment in the celestial room, kneeling across the altar in the robes of the priesthood, looking into the eternity that those mirrors try to convey to us, this is the most important moment of your life. This is why the church told people for so long that they couldn’t risk having a civil marriage first. Because what if you never get back to the temple? Then your children won’t be sealed to you. And you won’t go to heaven.

Without marriage, neither man nor woman can enter into the celestial kingdom. Those who go through the endowment ceremony alone are not sealed into the highest order of the priesthood, and cannot enter into the highest level of heaven. This is why bishops and other priesthood callings are only extended to married men.

Now I’d divert your attention to the new strategy of referring to “Heavenly Parents,” that is to a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are a heterosexual married couple. This is the pattern of godhood which we as mortals must strive to emulate. There are no non-binary or agender or transgender people in heaven. There are no people who are not married who can get to the celestial kingdom. Men and women can be sealed after death in heterosexual marriage, if they had no opportunity to be sealed in this life. This is the great promise of temple work. But they cannot enter heaven single. In past years, the argument for polygamy was offered that more women would qualify to be in the celestial kingdom than men, and if they had to be married, it would have to be as second or third wives — though I think I’ve heard this less now because the statistics don’t work out. (And besides, I’m not sure the men who lead the church today really want to say too loudly that women are more spiritual than men because then why are none of them appointed as prophets again?)

There are also Mormons who argue vehemently that Christ himself was married (usually they say to Mary Magdalene, though I’ve heard a handful of other candidates). Non-Mormon Christians are appalled by this bit of heresy. Dan Brown got into plenty of trouble by suggesting this was a hidden secret about Christ that the Catholic Church has covered up over centuries. Catholics think of marriage as a sacrament, but certainly not as the only or even the best way to God. Divorce is certainly a problem within the Catholic church, since it can lead to not being allowed to take communion. But this is not at all the same as what happens to Mormons who are divorced.

What I’m going to point out is that it is SO important for people to be married that there is no kind of marriage that our theology imagines bad enough to make it better to be single than to be married. Because, again, marriage is the highest order or Mormonism. Marriage is a necessary final step in our work to become like God. So even a crappy marriage to an abusive husband, or a cheating wife, is better than no marriage at all. God can work out all the details, but if you don’t have that sealing done, then you can’t go to heaven. No wonder Mormons are so busy doing temple work for all our ancestors, so they can get to heaven, too.

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Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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