My father and mother were sealed in the London temple but subsequently their sealing was cancelled and my father was excommunicated. I have not seen him for over 10 years. Since my mother’s divorce she remarried and has been sealed again in the temple. Currently, according to the Church Handbook of Instructions, ‘After a husband and wife have been sealed in a temple, if one of them is excommunicated or has his or her name removed from Church membership records, his or her temple blessings are revoked. However, the sealing blessings of the innocent spouse and of children born in the covenant are not affected’. Although I find some solace in the continued validity of the sealing to my mother, I am still spiritually fatherless, an orphan of sorts.
Yet, in another sense, I am not.
The other day my step-father, who, incidentally, is one of the best people I know, laid his hand upon my shoulder and gave me a priesthood blessing. As he has done many times before he blessed me as if I “were his own son”; the quiet sincerity of those words still surprise and thrill me. He has adopted me into his heart as his own and I have him. Although no formal ordinance confirms our relationship, we are sealed in a similar way to that described by Elder Faust when he said: ‘This sealing power thus reveals itself in family relationships, in attributes and virtues developed in a nurturing environment and in loving service. These are the cords that bind families together, and the priesthood advances their development.’ Despite that personal assurance and the words of Elder Faust, I yearn to share that ritual with him and to experience the advancement which the priesthood allows.
In this regard, Samuel Brown’s and Jonathan Stapley’s recent articles on the law of adoption have been, for me, devotional as well as academically insightful. smb observes that the law of adoption was, in part, a response to the familial estrangement experienced by many converts during the early years of the Church. At times these estranged, early converts were called ‘orphans’. I can understand why the Church moved away from this practice: the rate of estrangement decreased at the same time that missionary work became subsumed under the efforts to defend polygamy, . Further, in an effort to focus upon the importance of keeping families together I can understand why the sealing policies are the way they currently are. And yet, as the Church moved once again to emphasise sharing the gospel familial estrangement and reconstitution would become an increasingly prominent part of the experience of these new members of the Church. In addition, with divorce rates that are similar to the host country, families are often practically renegotiating their concept of ‘eternal families’.
I do not doubt that family history provides some very real comfort to these people and yet there is an irony here. For it is those who have the greatest faith in the power, the reality and the significance of these sealing ordinances that are often most hurt by their being denied them in this life. I think of children who desire a sealing with a new step-parent (like myself), I think of single-parent converts who desire to be sealed to their children and I think of children who cannot be sealed to a parent because they were born after one of their parents had been excommunicated. I am confident that in many cases these individuals do not want to forget these estranged or broken family relationships. If my father wanted contact with me I would be overjoyed at the prospect of re-kindling our sealing. Rather we, like Joseph, want ‘an hundredfold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters’ (D&C 132:55) and we want to be sealed to those who want to be sealed to us.
I am not privy to discussions among the Quorum of the Twelve and I am not really seeking any change in response to writing this; but my hope is that, if there has not been recent discussion of these issues, that it might be considered again. Perhaps it would be possible to hear some of the experiences and testimonies of those who desperately seek these ordinances. Perhaps if we ask the Lord He would give us revelation about how to move forward. I do not pretend to know the God’s will on this matter and I am confident there are dimensions of this issue that I do not understand. As such, I am willing to sustain the current policy as it stands.
Yet, with that said, I want to be sealed, temple-sealed, to my step-father; so that I may ‘no longer be an orphan’.
1. Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1: 3.6.1, 2010.
2. James E. Faust, Finding Light in a Dark World [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 136 – 137.
3. Cited in Samuel M. Brown, Early Mormon Adoption Theology and the Mechanics of Salvation in Journal of Mormon History, 2011, p. 22.