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