Eternal Family and Marriage— Not just for Mormons

“Nah, I don’t see the point,” said one of the women at the BBQ.

 

She was responding to a question that had been raised about ‘Eternity Rings’- rings that seem to be popular in Australia and New Zealand. As an American Mormon immigrant to Australia, the first place I had heard about Eternity Rings was at church. Like an engagement ring, the Eternity ring was meant as a symbol of eternal love within marriage (or infinite love, as they are also called ‘Infinity Rings’). The timing of the gift of an eternity ring varied; some of the LDS women insisted that it was a ring intended when you were sealed (before or after the initial marriage); others said it was at the birth of the first child, or for the first anniversary, or the tenth, or fortieth.  Non Mormons agreed- it was a wedding ring, or anniversary ring, or similar. It was not a necessary ring, but was a nice ring to have.

 

Truth be told, it is all a marketing scheme aimed at selling smaller diamonds.  (and don’t worry, Americans have them, too!) So, years later, as I sat at a classic Australian BBQ with a group of women I had met through the local Christian non-denominational church, we discussed the symbolism of the eternity ring, and thus, eternal marriage.

 

“Nah, I don’t see the point,” said one of the women at the BBQ.  “We’re married forever, we don’t need the ring.”

 

Her comment surprised me. “Baptists believe in being married forever? In heaven?”

 

She looked at me like I had two heads. “Of course,” she finally said, with a chuckle, then a burst into full laughter. “Forever!”

 

“It’s not ‘Till death do you part’?” I pressed, riddled with curiosity.

 

“No!” This time all of the women began to giggle. “We’re all stuck with who we married!” Bursts of laughter followed. It was a jovial occasion, so the women who had eternity rings shared why they had them (in place of an engagement or wedding rings, to mark a significant event in their marriage and so on.) But for the most part, most of these good Christian women did not have them.

 

The conversation them turned theological, and we discussed eternal marriage, and how they believed they would see family members who had passed before them. All the women present believed in eternal marriage: Baptists, Unitarians, Lutherans, members of the Uniting church and so on.

 

“What about mixed families?” I asked, “Those who have different fathers—does one parent or another—well…” My words were awkward and overly Mormon. “Is the child from a first marriage a part of the first or second marriage?”

 

Blank stares. Finally someone answered. “Does it matter? It’s heaven. I mean, if we’re all there, we’ll all get along, and that won’t matter. We don’t own our children in heaven. They’ll have their own spouses and children can visit anyone they want.” She repeated with a shrug, “It’s heaven.”

 

I suddenly realised how complicated my own religion is. The business of men being able to be sealed to more than one living wife, and wives being able to be sealed to more than one husband, but only after they are dead. About the fussiness of where children who are born in the covenant, but then the parents gain and “earthly” divorce end up. It is as though then belong to one parent or another- like segregated eternal property, making heaven sound like a jealous, or loyal, or worldly-complicated place.

 

Walking temple square as a youth I had pretended to not be Mormon to experience the missionary spiel. The high-energy sales pitch was all about “eternal families” and “being sealed.”  I believed then that the concept of eternal marriage was something only Mormons taught and believed. And though I later discovered that historically the concept of eternal marriage was a theological product of the Victorian Age (1), I was still fixated on the idea that every other Christian wedding ceremony concluded with “Till death do you part.”

 

But they don’t.  And beautifully, because they do not teach that children are property to be sealed to specific parents. And they also do not believe that mortal polygyny and post-mortal polyandry are acceptable states of marriage, the true Christian concept of eternal marriage struck me as something sweeter than anything I had been taught in Mormonism.

 

 

 

Thus, as a Mormon feminist, what does this mean to me? I have my own beliefs in regard to the eternities; I believe that in heaven that poverty, politics, sexism and custody battles shall be erased. I believe we will all be bathed in the Christian concept of an eternally loving and peaceful heaven where we can study, learn and become perfected in every art and science possible.  I do not see polygamy, polyandry, polygyny or a collection of mortally married individuals will be “born-again single” and wandering about alone simply because they did not get married in the Mormon temple.

 

So suddenly, at that BBQ, truth be told, the Mormon concept of eternal marriage seemed more of a marketing scheme aimed at selling smaller.

 

To be clear, I love the temple and the feeling I get when I am there. But that feeling is a reflection of my relationship with the Godhead. It is also a reflection of my non-belief in the customary Mormon concept of eternal families. I believe in something based in Christlike love. Not subservient, complicated, metaphysical glue based in bloodlines, yet broken when not danced in the rhythm of Mormon tradition.

 

What do you think about eternal marriage? Is it only a Mormon thing to you? Or is it a marketing scheme aimed at selling a concept that was always in traditional Christianity anyway?

 

 

 

 

(1) Houghton, Walter E.“Earnestness.”  The Victorian Frame of Mind.  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1957.  221

Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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15 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    Thank you for this, Spunky! I too believe that it’s love that binds us together in the eternities.

  2. Andrew R. says:

    My parents, Church of England prior to baptism in to the LDS faith, considered their marriage was forever – despite the “death do us part” bit of their marriage vows. But it wasn’t a taught concept – and it isn’t now. It was something they chose to believe. They loved each other, had been married in the eyes of God, and believe in life after death – so obviously they would be together.

    But whilst many believe it, it is not their doctrine.

    We do have a quite complicated sets of rules around this – and I believe that rules aside, in the end we will be where we belong, with those we belong with.

    The temple ordinances are about fulfilling the requirements of receiving the ordinances of salvation. The covenants we make therein are very personal, and between us and God – albeit the sealing also involving another person making very personal covenants with God.

    • spunky says:

      I did not consult any devout Anglicans, so I could not qualify Anglican doctrine in regard to that. But the Baptist and Unitarian pastors at this particular event stated that marriage to them in a doctrinal context means past death.

      The temple is still a place I enjoy worshiping for the purpose of ordinance study and personal revelation, but not for the sales-pitch of eternal family glue.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Not according to their current definition. This article http://www.canonandculture.com/marriage-and-the-family-in-the-baptist-tradition/ had the current definition of marriage at the end, and it states, “for a lifetime”

        I’m not saying their individual beliefs aren’t different, or their hopes. I just can’t find it being doctrinal.

      • Spunky says:

        Does it matter? Are you planning to become a Baptist?

      • Andrew R. says:

        Spunky,

        It doesn’t matter to me personally. But, in the context of the conversation, it would appear that whatever you were informed, it is not a doctrine of Baptists’ thinking. I agree that many may believe it – just as Ziff observed on her mission.

        From a wider perspective it matters because it is our doctrine. Although the “death do us part” bit it legal – it was there a long time before anyone bothered about legal status. And most law, especially family, comes from religious sources.

        In a wider view I am fairly sure that people who spent their lives together as husband and wife, or just lived together, may well spend eternity together. Our sealing is much more about progression than it is being together for eternity. The blessings imparted are, as I mentioned before, also personal and individual.

  3. Jana says:

    The “til death do us part” was in our civil wedding ceremony and it didn’t bother me at all. If I die first I want my spouse to wholeheartedly enjoy the love of someone else. It didn’t feel like it was about the eternities at all, it was just a practical statement about what would happen should one of us die before the other.

    • spunky says:

      Yes! I think of the “death do you part” is more legal terminology. A friend was married by a magistrate and asked if they could marry her for eternity. The magistrate said she could not perform an eternal marriage because her legal authority was limited to…well, mortality. So in additional to being practical, it is also a legal status– your partner can be free to remarry in the case of your death without the legalities associated with bigamy and divorce.

  4. Ziff says:

    This is a great insight, Spunky. More anecdote, but when I was a missionary (in Texas) I found that many Christians I talked to believed that they would still be married to their spouse in the next life, regardless of what their church’s official teachings might have been.

    I do like the possibility you raise of just having a clean version of this belief, unencumbered by the Mormon polygamy baggage.

  5. marcella says:

    I think that in other churches it’s more acceptable to have and express beliefs that are different from the strict teachings of that particular religion. It’s not the case in the Mormon church.

    Your story reminds me of when my son was in middle school. He was attending a Catholic school and was the only LDS student. The teacher was teaching about the trinity and asked my son what he believed. He stated that he believed they were three separate and distinct beings and both Jesus and God had physical bodies. He told me that quite a few classmates came up to him at recess and told him they believed the same thing 🙂

    It’s no surprise to me that people of all religions believe that their marriages will continue into the next life. I’ve sure seen a lot of “families are forever” stuff in non-lds homes and for sale in non-church stores.

  6. CacheValleyGirl says:

    My parents were in a second marriage, my mother’s 1st (sealed) husband having died very young. As I learned about sealings and such, I worried that I was sealed to her first husband….. a kind stranger. My wise mother and patient father always told me “God knows who your daddy is. You know who your daddy is.” That was always enough for little me and still is.

  7. Emily U says:

    LDS teachings about eternal families are like an optical illusion picture to me. You know, like the drawing of a pretty young woman, but you stare at it longer and finally see the old hag in the same drawing? On the surface the doctrines seem neat and sweet. Until there are a few complicated situations (and every family has at least one), and they suddenly seem exclusionary, even cruel. I don’t really believe in them anymore.

    I think if our consciousnesses continue after death, then our happiness will depend on continued relationships with people we cherished on this earth, because relationships are a primary source of joy. But I have no concrete beliefs about how those relationships will be structured. I’m OK with that.

  8. Rebecca says:

    I find this article very comforting. I struggle so much with the Mormons saying that those not married in the temple don’t get an eternal marriage, regardless of how right, beautiful, and wonderful the union is. And I’ve been taught that Mormons are the absolute, only correct answer on everything, and everyone else is wrong. But when other people/religions are saying things that feel kinder, gentler, more inclusive, more welcoming, and more loving, I appreciate it. The concept that EVERYONE can be together in heaven sounds more like the God I know and love.

    I kind of see what people mean when they talk about the Mormon God versus the Christian God. In this case, the Mormon God says loving husbands and wives are separated when they die (if not married in the temple). But the Christian God says “welcome to the heaven-party, everyone! We’re glad you found love in your life and we’re glad to have you.”

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