In a recent conversation about the perseverance extended through the Mormon temple liturgy, I thought it would be helpful to broaden the discussion. In doing so I’m going to quote from my article on adoption, and you will find all the footnotes there. I also recognize that these are issues that have been wrestled with in the 170 years or so since the Saints left Nauvoo, and Church leaders from different generations have interpreted the material differently. I’d like to step back to Joseph Smith, however, and those who built the foundational liturgy.
When children were sealed to their parents in the Nauvoo temple, they “were ‘sealed unto eternal life’ and ‘sealed against all sins and blasphemies,’ except the sin against the Holy Ghost.” (73) This is not typically how we think of temple sealings today. That sort of language is typically reserved for more esoteric ideas surrounding one’s calling and election being made sure. The thing is that in Nauvoo that sort of language applied to all temple sealings:
While Smith taught that perseverance was a blessing of various discrete temple rituals, he did not intend to create discrete liturgies. Instead, Smith revealed a single unified liturgy. Mormon sealing, whether for marriage, for children, or for the fullness of the priesthood, sealed in the traditional sense (i.e., guaranteed salvation) inasmuch as it formalized eternal bonds in the interconnected network of the cosmological priesthood. (60-61)
The question then arises, as the vorpal blade of reality goes snicker-snack, what happens to someone who has participated in a temple sealing and then “apostatizes”? As mentioned, different folks throughout time have dealt with this variously. Lately, there has been a resurgence of quoting Orson F. Whitney’s description of Joseph Smith’s teachings. Elders and Presidents Packer, Eyring, Hinckley, Faust and more have repeated his words:
…sooner or later they [errant children] will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. (see 60n17 for text and quoting authorities’ citations)
Words such as these offer comfort to the anxious parent, but they only summarize a part of Joseph Smith’s teachings (I’m fairly certain that the tentacles were of later descriptive vintage, for the record). All sealings construct heaven and according to Smith and his revelations, they all persevered, even if one was necessarily “destroyed in the flesh” to make it happen.
And it is a mess. Beyond the sin, disbelief, or the formal exit of errant children, we have divorce, and abuse and a host of other problems that rupture the cosmology. It is particularly-crisis inducing for those with fundamentalist leanings. Score one more for not have such leanings.
Sam Brown has talked about aspects of this, and I think that he is right on. There is a power in the outward focus of such assurances. Go read his book.