Vestigial Polygamy

The church officially—and in fact—ended its experiment with polygamy more than a century ago.

Yet polygamy and its effects remain with us today. And no, I’m not talking about D&C 132; we’ve officially read polygamy out of the the section, replacing it with our modern concept of eternal (monogomous) marriage.

What I’m talking about is the fact that a man (and, in certain limited circumstances, a woman) can be sealed to more than one person, and that those additional sealings can and do happen without the consent of the first sealed spouse. 

The spector of involuntarily being a polygamous spouse in the eternities creates real dread among faithful, temple-married Mormon women. Not all, of course, and maybe not the majority. But it’s on the minds of many women I’ve talked to, and many I’ve otherwise heard. And, for reasons I’ll get into in just a little while, it is a real problem, and one that creates real damage.

We have an answer for it, of course: it’ll all work out in the eternities.[fn1] And, while I believe that that’s true, it’s a deeply unsatisfying answer. And it’s not unsatisfying only because it pushes the real question off by a step—turtles all the way down—but because it is incompatible with our religious philosophy. That is, if our sealings will all be worked out in the eternities, why bother trying to get them right in this life? If we believe that this life has an eternal impact, which I necessarily do, then, even if everything will work out eventually, it must be that my choices today matter, and that I’m obligated to work toward getting the best answer possible.

If that’s true, “it will all work out” isn’t necessarily the wrong answer, but it’s cowardly and lazy to use it as our first answer; instead, we need to leave it as our last resort, our grace after all we can do.

So back to our modern polygamy dilemma: while I call it “vestigial” in the post title, it isn’t really the result of our half-century or so experience. Rather, it’s a direct result of our belief that marriage can be eternal. If temple sealings are eternal—and if we allow second marriages—eternal polygamy is a very real risk.

But this kind of polygamy, in some ways more than even 19th-century polygamy, feels wrong. And it feels wrong because it represents the collision of a couple incompatible values that we hold, especially eternal marriage and marital autonomy.[fn2]

That we value eternal marriage should go without saying. When I was on my mission, that was our biggest selling point. It is essential to exaltation.[fn3] I have a fam’ly here on earth, and all that.

At the same time, we value autonomy in marriage. As parents, we don’t arrange our children’s marriages. The church doesn’t arrange its members’ marriages. It arranges singles wards for people to meet, it encourages its single members to get out there and marry, but it doesn’t actually do the hard work of deciding who they should marry.

And we carry that autonomy into our vicarious temple work. If the sealing were the only thing, we could seal any two dead people to each other. But we only seal couples who were, in fact, married in life, preserving as best we can their autonomous lifetime choices (incidentally, underscoring the relevance of this life’s choices).

But those values become incompatible in the case of second marriages. A man whose spouse dies can remarry in the temple; with proper clearance, a man who has been civilly divorced (but hasn’t received a sealing cancellation) can be remarried in the temple.[fn4]

In either case, eternal marriage has trumped autonomy. That is, the eternal nature of the first and second marriage implies that, in the next life, the man will be married to more than one woman. But that eternal sealing didn’t require the consent of the first wife.[fn5] (In fact, if he’s a widower, her consent is basically impossible to obtain.) As a result, she’s in a polygamous marriage that she did not consent to, tied to a person or persons that she didn’t want to be tied to.

Moreover, the second spouse isn’t always all-in on postmortal polygamy, but if she wants to marry a man who has already been sealed, it is often the specter of polygamy or of not marrying. Men’s requests for sealing cancellations appear to be rejected as a matter of course (speaking anecdotally, at least).

There are ways to solve the problem of non-autonomous polygamy, of course, but all of them seem to violate fundamental values that we hold. Some examples:

Status quo. We can leave things as they are. Which, as I pointed out, violates marital autonomy.

Tie sealing cancellation to civil divorce. Not bad, except that it could discourage faithful individuals from pursuing a civil divorce in cases where, in fact, civil divorce is their best option. That is, if you believe that temple sealing is essential for exaltation (and some people seem to believe a very literal version of this), then, on the margins, there’s an incentive for staying in a bad marriage for the sake of being exalted.

Automatically provide a sealing cancellation in advance of a new sealing happens. This is probably fine where the new sealing follows a civil divorce; where it follows the death of a spouse, though, you’ve just eliminated the autonomy of the dead spouse—her (or his) eternal marriage can end by virtue of dying.

Only permit a single sealing. Sure. But then you eliminate the possibility of making a bad first choice and then a good subsequent choice.

Eliminate eternal marriage. Besides the doctrinal difficulty of making that move, it seems a little excessive.

Allow women to get second sealings during their lifetime. It doesn’t really fix anything, but at least it evens the playing field, and provides some version of marital mutally-assured destruction.

Information-forcing temple prenup. You could always require marrying couples to decide, in advance of their sealing, whether a second sealing is permissible. Of course, to really work, it has to be irrevocable; once a couple is married, the husband (who wants a second sealing, say) has more leverage to demand a change.  But the thing is, I’m not sure that’s a good point in time to require a decision of this kind of magnitude.

I’m not trying to find a solution here; I don’t believe there is a solution. But I think the idea that it will work out in the eternities becomes more palatible—and, frankly, more credible—when we’ve acknowledged the problem and wrestled with the possible solutions.

Today, it feels more like we’ve arrived where we are by default. We haven’t really enagaged with the issues, either institutionally or culturally. And by refusing to engage with the problems, we’re essentially telling our sisters and brothers who face them that we don’t care about their situation, because all is well with us.

And that’s the wrong message to send.

[fn1] FWIW, that’s also our answer to the dissonance between temple marriage being required for exaltation and the fact that not everybody will be married in this life.

[fn2] And yes, I know that in Joseph Smith’s time, polygamy, as practiced, didn’t necessarily allow for autonomy, and I know that throughout the ages, marriage was arranged, with limited to no input from the children to be married. Also, I don’t care. I’m talking specifically about contemporary Western marital mores here; for reasons I’ll explain in the main post, we’ve clearly absorbed those mores, even from a temple-sealing perspective.

[fn3] (except, of course, where it isn’t)

[fn4] My understanding is that women can be sealed to multiple men after they die, but not while they’re still alive, but I don’t have any citation for that.

[fn5] And yes, I know that 19th century polygamy, as a practical matter, didn’t always require the consent of the first wife. And I don’t care—again, I’m talking contemporary, not historical, practice.


  1. Angela C says:

    “by refusing to engage with the problems, we’re essentially telling our sisters and brothers who face them that we don’t care about their situation, because all is well with us.” Yet that does seem to be our default setting for all issues.

  2. Sam, sounds like you don’t want to give the church the ability to cast off polygamy without accounting for its history. Not a believer in clean slates, eh?

  3. david p. says:

    I think either party, after a divorce, should be permitted to nullify their sealing as well. Agency, after all, is the critical part of this whole plan. It is utterly nonsensical to me to not recognize the dissolution of a union that neither party neither belong to.

  4. Steve, I’m trying to do the opposite. Like I said, the problem with this kind of postmortal polygamy derives, not from our historic practice (though that may make us more sensitive to it), but from our doctrine of eternal marriage. I’m more than happy to allow a clean slate, but even with that clean slate, this is an issue that we need to confront.

  5. Angela C says:

    David P, I think the real (unspoken) issue here is that women are seen as the victim of male caprice, and the church is attempting to protect women from bad ex-husbands who dump them for a younger model. What gets lost in the shuffle is that it’s often the ex-wives who don’t want to feel saddled to a man they no longer love. Many are less concerned about the loss of the sealing ordinance (particularly if they can have another bite at the apple) than they are about being stuck with someone they don’t want to be with (and vice-versa) in a forced polygamous marriage, all for some youthful mistake of marrying the wrong man. I’m sure the children being sealed to parents is the other part of the church’s concern, and while that’s sticky, our doctrine essentially makes eternal couples more than eternal parents. Theoretically, everyone’s an adult in their perfected state in the celestial kingdom.

    Beyond that, there are cultural problems with previously sealed women in that (according to my sister anyway), many Mormon men won’t date them because they know they can’t be sealed to them. (This is just adding to the notion that a woman past childbearing years is often considered undateable). Previously sealed, divorced Mormon women are off the table. I don’t know how many people really feel this way, but it’s something that my sister claims is well known in older-LDS singles dating circles.

  6. I’d be happy to have a clean slate, and leave history to historians. The thing is, it isn’t even post-mortal polygamy; it’s active, living polygamy. A living man can be (and is, when a cancelation is denied but a clearance is granted) sealed to TWO living women. That’s polygamy, folks. Period.

    As a church, we consistently tell the single or never-sealed and divorced sisters not to worry about it- this demographic is the biggest recipient of the “It will all work out” line. We say this from one side of our mouth, patting them on the head and telling them not worry.

    Then, we turn around and almost always refuse a divorced man’s request for a cancellation unless his ex-wife is going to be sealed to a new, active LDS man. If she remarries a non-member, she will continue to be sealed to her first husband. If the man is remarrying, and asks for a cancelation, he will, in most cases be denied, and then he faces either not being sealed to his new wife, or being sealed to two living women. One man + two women = polygamy.

    So either it’s the most important thing we do, and it’s work denying a man his agency in order to protect his first wife, or is really doesn’t matter, as we tell the single sisters, because it will all work out. Which is it? Because it *cannot* be both.

  7. hope_for_things says:

    The doctrine around sealing families together is still evolving. It has been ever since Nauvoo, and I think it will continue. What is the core principle here in this eternal doctrine? I believe the core principle is that people and families and the entire human family are connected for eternity. Vicarious salvation, communal salvation, and Zion are all pieces of this eternal principle.

    We limit God when we focus on the literal and specific (I must be sealed to a person in the temple for it to be effective in Heaven.) These principles are much bigger, and more expansive, and less constrained than our administrative earthly rituals can define them.

    Ultimately, the church’s best path forward should be to allow anyone to be sealed to anyone that they want. Bring back the law of adoption. Allow members to control their sealings and cancelations of sealings. Quit emphasizing the binding nature of the ordinance, but try to understand how we are already bound by the eternal principles of these concepts, and the specific ordinance is just an outward manifestation of an eternal linking that is already part of our connection to the divine and each other.

    That’s how I see it.

  8. Clark Goble says:

    Sort of clear revelation, what exactly can be done? At best theologizing can just work out possibilities. But there are tons of possibilities, all speculative. The church can’t really appropriate the speculations.

  9. I am pretty sure that part of the reason the rest of the Christian world does not accept the notion of post-mortal continuation of marriage is because of this very conundrum. Either a man or woman may have more than one spouse in the hereafter or a decision mechanism must be invented to determine which spouse is the eternal one. That is part of what the Sadducees were getting at when they asked Jesus about a woman who had successively been married to seven brothers (no divorces, she had been widowed each time). According to the existing New Testament, Jesus ducked the question by simply saying that there was no marrying or giving in marriage in the hereafter. But if one believes that marriages continue, the question remains. Historically the LDS answer has been that the man gets to be sealed to all of them forever, but the woman only gets to be sealed to one. I am not sure that is still the official answer, given that after her death, a women may be sealed to all of her husbands (even if she was already sealed to just one of them). I have not heard any official pronouncement that the multiple sealings of the woman are invalid or that she must “make a choice”. In my mind, a woman sealed to multiple husbands (through vicarious rites) is just as sealed to them as a man sealed to multiple wives. What that means, I do not know for sure. Maybe the Sadducees shouldn’t have let Jesus off so easily on the question.

  10. We change policy all the time without direct revelation. We hear frequently from the PR department about something being “policy” not revelation. Our current sealing practices are policy- they’ve changed many times, and I hope they change again. Because being a living woman and having to choose between being a polygamist wife or not being sealed is an awful place.

  11. Clark, certainly it would require revelation to eliminate the idea of eternal marriage (which isn’t the solution I want, in any event). But most of my proposed solutions (each of which is, of course, problematic) can be accomplished administratively. Cancellation of sealings can happen, and it could be made easier and/or more common. We seal deceased women to multiple spouses; there’s no reason that couldn’t be extended to living women (because the consequences are the same).

    But we don’t even need to come to a conclusion—I think that the process of working through these issues, out loud and publicly (either institutionally or less-formally) could be salutory, as people see that there are competing interests, and can share their preferences and see institutional preferences.

  12. david p. says:

    Angela C – you make a fair point. It is my understanding that a woman, though previously sealed, can be sealed again after a cancellation of sealing. This assumes that the husband is still alive and consents. A brother just gets 1st presidency permission to get sealed again, whereas a sister needs a cancellation. It certainly gets sticky/unjust when the husband has passed away making her eternal prospects less optimistic, in the eyes of some. I

  13. Clark Goble says:

    Right, I should have been more careful in how I said that. I was just referring to the underlying doctrinal issues. Personally I think sealing cancelations should be made easier and I fully agree that’s just an administrative issue.

    It’s just that the other solutions, such as allowing multiple dealings to women (which is what I think should happen) seems to require pretty explicit revelation since it would entail polyandry. Some people get upset at this. But I usually then just ask why it’s worse one way than the other. Even if this isn’t taken to imply polyandry (since in work for the dead there’s often a “seal them all and let God work it out” attitude) it would still seem to require revelation on the topic.

    While we change policy all the time, major changes with doctrinal implications seem to require revelation.

  14. Last Lemming says:

    Regarding footnote 4, here is the citation you lack:

    If a woman was legally married more than once (such as after the death of a husband), you may have a sealing ordinance performed for her and each husband.

    Introduction to Family History Student Manual, Chapter 7.4.4 at

    Because the woman must be deceased before the multiple sealings can occur, the playing field remains uneven. But the policy does raise the specter of mass group marriages in the celestial kingdom that, to my knowledge, nobody believes will actually occur. But I envision “working it out in the eternities” to involve negotiations in which women with multiple earthly husbands will have just as much leverage (in the form of valid sealings in hand) as men with multiple earthly wives. Husbands and wives who abused and/or abandoned their spouses on earth will simply not be present for those negotiations.

  15. J. Stapley says:

    Part of the challenge is that at their foundation, sealings persevered. That is to say that they aren’t aspirational. They are real. Excommunications don’t even cancel them. The canceling of sealings is consequently viewed with tremendous concern.

    I think that the most fair thing to do is to all multiple sealings in mortality for both men and women, and confess that we don’t know how that will be resolved.

  16. J. can you expand on what you mean by “aren’t aspirational” and that excommunications don’t cancel them? How can someone be sealed to a person who doesn’t wish it, to whom they’ve severed legal and lawful ties, or if they are not even a member of the church any longer?

  17. I know two divorced women who are in this boat. Their spouses were resealed to wife #2, while the first wives are still waiting for the cancellation process to occur. The cancellation itself can get ugly. This isn’t a simple just write a letter deal. Depending on who is involved, who left who, why and why not – the process gets muddied. All the while husband is off living life, and wife #1 has an eternity on hold.

    My husband is keen to say, “The church needs to get out of the wedding business.”

  18. I disagree J. I think sealings are aspirational.

  19. J. Stapley says:

    Tracy, perhaps this might be a good explanation of what I am getting at.

  20. Cat, there are also many cases of wife #2, legally and lawfully wed, has her eternity on hold, and that of her children, while wife #1 throws a fit and does everything in her power to stall and deny the clearance. It’s a mess in all directions.

  21. J. Stapley says:

    There is no shame in being wrong, Stephen.

  22. J. Stapley says:

    …but more to your point, I think they have become more aspirational with time. But the reasons our policies exist the way they do is because they used to not be.

  23. I still think that’s a misunderstanding of what JS taught, but perhaps we’ll save that for another time.

  24. I think two things need to happen:

    1. Members of the church need to be able to cancel their own sealings to other living individuals. We should be trusted to make our own decisions on this matter.

    2. I have an ancestor who is sealed as a daughter to her step-father, who was a polygamist who married her mother when her mother was in her fifties or sixties, back in early 1840’s. None of her mother’s many children even lived in this man’s household. They were grown and married when he came along. Yet Family Search records indicate that he is their father. Their real father never joined the church. So my ancestor and her many siblings are sealed as children (along with dozens of others) to this man. It’s unclear to me how sealing to children works in a divorce (which is what, officially or not, happened in the above case). But I think children should be sealed to both parents, regardless of whether the parents are sealed together or not. And children should be able to get sealed to a non-member parent after that parent’s death, regardless of whether the other parent was sealed to someone else.

  25. “That is, if our sealings will all be worked out in the eternities, why bother trying to get them right in this life?”

    The same reason we do posthumous work, even though we could only possibly get a bare fraction of it done and correct without the people themselves coming back and telling us what is right. We do it because having only 50% of it right (very optimistic) means being 50% closer to finished. “We should do it perfectly or not do it at all” is a terrible thing, especially for something that has been given as essential to our progression. It’s like the servant saying, “I wasn’t sure my investments would work, so I buried what was given instead.”

    I think we’re on the verge of allowing women to get second sealings. We’ve already seen progress on women being able to get cancellations without a marriage being imminent (which isn’t as widely known as it should be), just as there was progress from the time when women had to ask for cancellations by themselves without their week-long husband taking responsibility. For me, I’d very much prefer the restrictions/requirements be completely normalized for both genders.

  26. “The church officially—and in fact—ended its experiment with polygamy more than a century ago.”

    Knowingly, at least. I personally know of a couple of cases where individuals were married in the temple while still being married to a prior spouse. In one case it was probably an honest mistake (an individual thought he was divorced but was not); in the other case, the husband knew he was still married but went through with the second marriage anyway. His punishment for lying to church officials about it was essentially a slap on the wrist.

    The church isn’t in the polygamy business any more, but bigamy occasionally happens in any place where couples regularly get married, including in our temples.

  27. Mary Ann says:

    Our sealing policies have shifted quite a bit over the last century. In the older “New” FamilySearch program, it was painfully obvious just how messed up the sealings had been in prior generations. If two individuals were sealed together it was insanely difficult to undo that relationship, even if it didn’t make any sense (hello, law of adoption). One of my ancestors was sealed to the younger sister of his wife – a girl who had died in her early teens. I asked my mom why it happened (they were clearly never married in real life), and she explained that at one time people felt that all unmarried people who passed away over the age of 8 absolutely needed to be sealed as a spouse to *someone,* otherwise they’d forfeit exaltation. In our time, that’s just dumb. At other times there were prohibitions on sealing children of later spouses, or making sure all those children were sealed to the man and his first wife (not their biological moms). One of the benefits of the newer Family Tree program is that you can correct family relationships and perform all appropriate sealings without being bound by whatever crazy sealings happened in the past. That’s one of the biggest perks of the change in policy to allowing women to be sealed to all their husbands.

    I feel it’s only a matter of time before living women are allowed to be sealed to all husbands. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me and is perfectly compatible with the idea that “everything will work out in the end.”

  28. Sam, you’ve hit on a serious problem with very negative consequences for many in the church. My sister, after a short, childless, temple marriage in her early twenties, went on to divorce and get civilly remarried. She requested a cancellation of her prior sealing so she and her new husband could be sealed in the temple. Her request was soon denied without explanation. Her stake president didn’t have any answers and only suggested that she reapply at some point in the future.

    Distraught, and pregnant with her first child, she became desperate to not have her and her husband’s children sealed to her first husband. She hatched a plan to resign from the church (or somehow be excommunicated) in order to have her prior sealing cancelled, with the idea of getting rebaptized and sealed properly in the future. Only then did her stake president take her cancellation application up the chain for urgent reconsideration. My sister received her cancellation just in time to be sealed to her husband a week before their first child was born.

    This ridiculous episode affected our entire family. We could not believe there wasn’t a better, more sensitive (dare I say, Christlike) way of handling such a situation.

  29. “making sure all those children were sealed to the man and his first wife (not their biological moms)” — this still happens, I believe, in the case where a man and woman decide to marry civilly but not be sealed because wife # 1 refuses to allow a cancellation. Children born into the second marriage are sealed to the man and his first wife, not the biological mother. This is not just or good.

  30. I cannot help but believe if those in charge were actually facing this in their own lives (or the lives of their daughters) they might pay it more heed and give us something besides counsel to be more faithful. This disproportionally effects women, and it ends up looking like we just don’t matter very much.

  31. John F, that happens in reverse- the man and his second civilly married wife’s children are unsealed. Any children the 1st wife has with her non-member husband are sealed to the first husband. Once again, the relationship with man takes primacy.

  32. ^…With the *sealed* man…

  33. Tracy – You are correct that the process can be held up by the wife as much as the husband. The point I was trying to present was that “the process” whichever way it goes is not conducive or helpful. Divorce on it’s own is painful – making the sealing part an additional pain seems heartless. I know the church wants people to stay married, to keep families together, etc. but I think our policies play the devils advocate to it.

  34. By our actions in these policies, we show a belief that it is the man who matters, and that the woman is an appendage. Obviously, we as a people and Church leaders no longer believe this, but it does testify to the prevailing view of how women stood in relation to men a century ago or more, both in society and in the Church, when these policies were first being developed and solidified. The proof is in the pudding.

  35. it's a series of tubes says:

    J, I’d like to hear further about the view that a sealing binds one who thereafter is unwilling to accept it. How can such person be “abid[ing] in my covenant”, which D&C 132:19 identifies as a necessary precondition for the sealing to be effective hereafter?

    The idea that any person will be stuck, against their will, with a spouse in the hereafter due to a sealing is, IMO, a pernicious and damaging falsehood, particularly to innocent women who are led to believe they are irrevocably bound to a man who has betrayed them.

  36. (In fact, if he’s a widower, her [a deceased wife’s] consent is basically impossible to obtain)

    Why? Don’t we teach, as Mormons, that anyone’s selection of a spouse should be accompanied by much fasting and prayer? Don’t we believe ourselves individually to be in regular communication with a God who communicates with the dead as well as the living?

  37. The practical, nut-and-bolts aspects of temple marriage as we perform it in this life makes me think either we don’t understand the first thing about the doctrine of sealing, or the whole thing is just so much baloney. Until we take a less bureaucratic approach to it–such as seal ’em all, let God sort ’em out–I don’t understand why anyone would think the way we do eternal families is a selling point.

  38. BK Anderson says:

    Rocking the boat here, but the main issues with mortal polygamy are finite time and finite resources. A man with two wives cannot possibly spend equal amounts of time or attention on each wife, leading to jealousy, resentment, etc. But one-half of eternity is also eternity, and at that point, there will be never-ending new experiences to go around, and so many of life’s insecurities get eliminated through resurrection and atonement.

    It would be callous for someone to order someone to stop loving a dead spouse. It would also be callous to put a limit on the number of people who can marry, if, say, there are five celestial-worthy women for every celestial-worthy man. Patience and forgiveness are required for dealing with the effects of mortality and agency, and that extends to those waiting on the other side. I don’t know that there’s a way to cram everyone through the same modern princess fairytale social more and into the celestial kingdom.

  39. To BK – So if you die tomorrow, and your wife gets sealed to another man thereafter, you’ll be cool with that?

  40. john f.: “By our actions in these policies, we show a belief that it is the man who matters, and that the woman is an appendage.” Yes, exactly.

  41. john f. said:

    “By our actions in these policies, we show a belief that it is the man who matters, and that the woman is an appendage. Obviously, we as a people and Church leaders no longer believe this. . .”

    I would completely disagree that it is obvious that we no longer believe this. I have met many men, both old and young, and a few women who do honestly believe that men are more important than women and that women are put on this earth in order to help men reach exaltation. I doubt that most Church leaders have this opinion but I would imagine that there are some who do.

    On a less related note, while our policies reflect the idea that men are more important, they still are just as destructive to men. A good friend of mine was married in the temple, his wife cheated on him and ran off with the new man to a new state. A year later, he got a call from a bishop who wanted his input on getting his sealing cancelled since his ex-wife was wanting to be sealed again. He answered the bishop’s questions, who seemed utterly shocked at the story. He had no idea that any cheating had happened. The bishop said he would send him a form to fill out and a request for a letter. Neither ever came. His ex-wife was sealed in the temple to her new husband two months later. He was never notified that their sealing had been cancelled, but his mom wanted to know so she contacted his bishop and was able to find out that the sealing was cancelled.He now has no desire to be married in the temple because this situation made it clear to him that a temple marriage was no more sacred in the minds of anyone involved than a civil marriage. (I’m not claiming to agree with his belief, but I can definitely see how he arrived there.)

  42. Holy smokes! I can’t wait to see on the other side how my divorced (now dead) mom, her replacement, and my dad duke this one out. Mom will probably say “He’s yours.” Her replacement will probably argue “No you don’t, not so fast!”
    Some patriarch, or GA, or a sanctimonious and self-assigned authority I spoke with at some time in my life clearly pointed out that the whole sealing thing is nebulous and complicated; is NOT what we think it to be in this life. He basically said “We can’t understand these relationships with our limited mortal capabilities. It’s not exactly what it seems.” No man/woman, sealed for eternity “OWNS” the other. One doesn’t “BELONG” to the other.
    I don’t know why I bothered writing this other than to say, I, too will have to wait until things are worked out in the afterlife.

  43. I tend to get a lot of mileage out of the concept of volition in this context. My concept of heaven and afterlife does not include people being snookered into relationships they do not want. Sealings are efficacious (hat tip to J.) but they do not trump individual acceptance. They cannot.

    I recognize that this is not far afield from a “things will work out” approach. I also recognize that this approach does not deal with the history, except I’d argue that the volitional element has evolved over time. People used to like the idea of big polygamous families on high. Now they don’t. Do modern LDS sensibilities around polygamy necessitate, cosmologically, the invalidity of those polygamous sealings? I doubt it.

    So then what will we see in heaven? It is undeniably messy. Some polygamous relationships and some monogamous, all intertwined, with the occasional second wife lurking in the shadows, forbidden from entering into eternal companionship with her earthly spouse because the first wife does not consent? We have baked ourselves a casserole of contradictions and there is no way out.

    However, polygamy is not that different from everything else we manage to muck up in mortality. There are many, many earthly issues that pose serious consequences for eternal relationships. The prospect of polygamy, I’d argue, is worse but it is not so different a problem that we should let it turn our lives upside down. We don’t have answers to wayward children or infant mortality or part-member families or a host of other problems. Add polygamy to the stack.

  44. great comment, Steve

  45. “We can’t understand these relationships with our limited mortal capabilities. It’s not exactly what it seems.”

    But when the answer is along these lines AND causing sorrow and confusion in this life, policy needs to change. Policy should be on the side of comforting.

    Case in point, the policies, maybe even the theology, surrounding suicide has changed very quietly under the tenure of President Monson. The previous ways of handling caused sorrow and confusion. It was changed. It’s now on the side of “we don’t know, we can’t understand it with our limited mortal capabilities, but we honor them and believe that a loving God will understand their needs.” It’s frankly beautiful.

    Something like that needs to be enacted regarding this.

  46. The wayward children tentacle doctrine (that is now getting pushback toward the sorrowful/confusion side actually) is also in this camp.

  47. BHodges says:

    It will be very interesting to see if the church makes administrative changes in regard to these issues in the future. Some folks are certainly praying for change I imagine.

  48. Emjen12,

    Where is the wayward children tentacle doctrine getting pushback? (Sorry for the thread jack)

  49. Kevin Barney says:

    Sam, great job articulating the problems.

    And Angela C., I agree that men not being willing to date a woman to whom a sealing is not possible is a very real thing in older LDS dating circles.

  50. Pokemom says:

    “By our actions in these policies, we show a belief that it is the man who matters, and that the woman is an appendage.”

    Well, as others have pointed out, our policies also affect men adversely. My friend was married for 11-ish years and had 4 small children when she was widowed. Still young, after a few years she married a believing LDS man who had never married before and had always wanted a temple marriage/sealing. Her sealing to the first husband was not cancelled. She married her second husband in a non-sealing ceremony in the temple. Theoretically, the children she and second husband have had together are sealed to the first husband. The second husband, a good husband and father to all those step children and his own, for 20 years now, has never received a sealing ordinance for himself.

    So, In this example, the policies seem to reflect that it is the first sealing that matters, and if that is the case, it makes me think the nature of the sealing ordinance is much broader than how we perceive it. This is the conclusion that my father, a sealer for some 15 years, has come to: that it is not really about the eternal marriage, but is about the sealing to the human family and to God. But our current policies mean that some faithful members–women and men–are not allowed to have the sealing ordinance for themselves.

    I agree that it would seem more fitting if we allowed women and men to have an active, living sealing to any spouse they legally wed in life.

  51. Polygamy and the sweeping it under the rug by our fearless leaders are more signs to me that this is not what it purports to be. I guess there is a reason new converts are slowly acclimated to these silly doctrines.

  52. Thank you for opening up a discussion about this issue! Even without knowing solutions, just talking honestly about and publicly acknowledging the downsides to our doctrine/policy (whatever it is..) is helpful. I always thought I was the only one who felt the way I do about this since it’s never discussed.

  53. J. Stapley says:

    That is a great comment, Steve.

    emjen and marc, here is my write-up on that article:

  54. Excellent comment, Steve

  55. But Steve it is all ok because…the Law of Sarah says the new polygamy essay. Like or not that is where we are currently at when it comes to push and shove in the doctrinal “volition” of women in polygamy (blech!) I agree volition andagency should trump all but given all we know about historical polygamy there are grave concerns about how free of coercion of various sorts those were. Certainly, biblical polygamy occurred in a context in which I would argue women had little if no legal or social agency that we would recognize as being adequate. In theory might there be a case where polygamy is full free choice? Sure. In empirical practice it is devishly hard to find in any form that I can stomach as being full of agency for women. To me that matters heavily in any discussion of “volition”.

  56. Clark Goble says:

    Good comments Steve.

  57. As one who has had to come to grips, personally, with the eternal polygamy problem with two wonderful spouses….

    We have discussed this at length and have noted that polyandry was permitted in the early Church, that women could and were sealed to more than one living husband, particularly if one of those husbands were named Joseph. Given that fact, then, full equality would necessarily extend polyandry to the celestial kingdom. Pushed in the limit, and given that, in the celestial kingdom, people will know each other for trillions of years, everyone will be effectively married to everyone else. Add to this, that the celestial kingdom is a place of absolute peace, happiness, and freedom, I can certainly see that everything will work out. That step is not that far away, and there are no more turtles. Our main problems are our misconceptions, human jealousies, and Darwinian natures. These blems will be overcome by the grace of our Savior, who, when we see Him, we will be like Him. Beyond that, we have no real understanding of infinities and how they inform our natures.

    I have absolute assurance that I love these people and that these people love me, And that I will do all in my power to continue in that love. Whatever it takes. With the grace of God, it will continue.

  58. (Referring to Steve Evans at 4:02pm June 2) A volitional model does 80% of the heavy lifting, especially when we recognize volition or agency on all sides, because it implies and sustains the messy complications of real life. However, it does not answer the vestigial gender biases in current practice, nor the inconsistent cancellation practices (or even the fact of cancellations), which are things we could do something about in the here-and-now.

  59. Thanks so much for starting this conversation, Sam. I’m the 80th person to say this, but it’s the inequality in our current practice that I find bad. If we’re so sure that it’s going to be worked out later, then there’s no reason to have an unequal handling of cancellations/multiple sealings now. No reason other than that the policies are made by men only. Or in other words, I think Tracy M. nailed it when she said this:

    “I cannot help but believe if those in charge were actually facing this in their own lives (or the lives of their daughters) they might pay it more heed and give us something besides counsel to be more faithful. This disproportionally effects women, and it ends up looking like we just don’t matter very much.”


  60. Christian, I agree!

  61. A Happy Hubby says:

    Eternal marriage is a beautiful doctrine. But this messiness has me wondering why God would exclude anyone in the first place. Are we not all children of God and we start out being in the same “family”? And the “it will all work out in the end” explanation really pushes me more to wonder about this.

  62. If living women were allowed to be sealed to more than one man, would it change the wording of the sealing ceremony where women give themselves to their husbands, but husbands do not reciprocate? Also, would that affect the ceremony at the veil when couples are sealed? Brian Hales (the current darling of the church essays on polygamy) claims that women can only have one true husband. How does that fit into all this?

  63. I find RW’s impressions intriguing (and they seem to jive with what some here have suggested Joseph Smith was actually getting at during the Nauvoo period). But for pure reasons of history/inertia, I think the Church (and probably, at this point, its membership) is going to remain far more open to the idea of heavenly polygamy than it will be to the idea of heavenly open marriages.

  64. I apologize, I was not thinking of not solving the “here and now” problem, but laying a foundation for the solution. If polygamy does not make a difference in eternities, why, then, should it make a difference to the leadership of this Church? Gotta say, Jesus railed against religious rule makers who caused difficulties and injustices in the here and now. It is only tradition, jealousy, and our Darwinian natures which prevent us from fixing the problem. As a result, the Church will only make changes when the bad doctrine starts affecting the bottom line numbers substantially and can be identified as such. Otherwise it is status quo.

  65. FWIW, Jesus’ solution was pretty straightforward. This doesn’t address sealings and post-mortality human relationships, but there you are.

  66. I tend to view earthly things as being modeled on eternal things, but all models are only so accurate and break down in usefulness at some point. I’ve heard an analogy in which we could think of ourselves as 2-dimensional, like stick people on a piece of paper. Exalted beings would be like 3-dimensional people, with the ability to look down on the piece of paper and see everything that’s going on, but living in a much bigger and fuller reality. An exalted being could lie down on the paper so that we stick people could see him/her, but we would have no concept of the reality of that being.

    Carrying on with the metaphor, I don’t believe our 2-dimensional concept of marriage or the sealing ordinance encompasses what it is in the 3-dimensional exalted reality. Our model breaks down. It doesn’t mean our model isn’t valuable, but maybe our stress and confusion with regards to eternal marriage come because we stretch the model too far. This perspective allows for modification of policies without revelation though, because those policy changes would only happen at the edge of the model where the boundaries are already ill-defined. I don’t think it allows for us to simply change whatever we want, either, because there must be some important pieces to the model that are essential. But whether our “one man, one woman” model is more accurate, or simply more era-appropriate, is unclear.

    This is just an elaborate way of saying “Don’t worry, it will all work out in the eternities”, so call it a cop out if you will. But in a way, Steve’s concept of volition (which I agree with) is also a cop out — God’s not going to force you to do anything you don’t want, sure, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences (ie., even if Steve’s right that a sealing can’t force you to be with someone against your will, it doesn’t mean you wouldn’t lose your exaltation when you opted out).

    Personally, I simply can’t conceive of two exalted beings who would not rejoice in each other’s company, period. I just can’t see how they could get to that point and not have left their worldly baggage and failures behind.

  67. One of the biggest questions for me is – what do married people do in the eternities?

    As someone who doesn’t believe in viviparous spirit birth, it makes me wonder what can 2 married people do or what do they do that say 2 really good friends can/do not do? (Is it just that they get to continue having sex? to what end? It feels like there has to be something more purposeful than that if only the most faithful/spiritually-intelligent/prepared can fill this role.)

    I feel like if I had a better understanding of that question, then perhaps I could try and make an assessment on the usefulness/purpose of theoretical polygyny at the highest echelons of exaltation. But as it stands, as I do not understand the primary purpose of marriage in the hereafter, potential polygyny or general polygamy doesn’t make any sense. Not to say that there might not be a purpose or benefit, I just can’t see one. And if marriage’s only purpose is for greater companionship/closeness, why arbitrarily limit it to exalted beings? It seems marriage must serve some purpose in eternity that I do not yet comprehend. And until I can get a glimpse of that, I think the question of polygyny/polygamy in the hereafter will remain a mystery.

  68. MDearest says:

    As a woman [not quite] permanently married to a heathen, it’s hard to find that I have a horse in this race. I’m moderately resigned to being a file clerk in the next life and console myself that the company will be stellar. Even so, I agree that this hopelessly snarled doctrine is damaging, sometimes acutely so, and is long overdue for a fresh-air discussion. And revision! I’d like to express my love for the depth and breadth of the comments, most of them anyway, and emphasize that this is a black cloud over the future happiness of women so. much. more. than it is for men. Some men, anticipating their 47 virgins I suppose, don’t even see it as a black cloud. The only time it causes pain for men in this life is when they happen to be attached to a woman who is caught in this snare. But the thing is, as women, we all run the risk of being in some future exalted dude’s harem, and we don’t have Joseph Smith around to receive the magnitude of revelation that would fix this. Yet it seems that, if we really believe that God will sort it out in the afterlife, the very least we could do now is to make the policy and practice equal between men and women.

  69. it's a series of tubes says:

    The only time it causes pain for men in this life is when they happen to be attached to a woman who is caught in this snare.

    Rest assured it causes plenty of pain in the here and now for many men, not just in that situation. Here’s a common one: the man who faces resentment, bitterness, and hostility from his (one and only, sealed in temple with) wife because “you’re just going to be hooking up with tons of women in the next life”

    Always a party to get to live with marital discord arising from things you have not done and will never do. One marriage and spouse for me, thanks.

  70. MDearest says:

    To protect yourself from the pain of having multiple wives, tubes, you only need exercise the option of your choice. There is no way a woman can guarantee that by exercising her choice alone, the way you have. This is another in a very long list of present disparities associated with polygamy in the afterlife. I’m not trying to diminish your pain, but the reality is that it is less compared to what women face.

  71. it's a series of tubes says:

    I’m not trying to minimize what you are saying, and agree that while rough for both sides, women have it worse. I’m merely stating that even those who will never enter into multiple marriages can and are being harmed by it.

  72. I note in my dissertation that the Saducees use the phrase “raise up seed” when they ask Christ about which of her husbands the woman would be married to in the next life, the same phrase used in Jacob 2:30. I then note “Indeed, if marriage existed in heaven, as Smith insisted, then the Sadducees’ question was still relevant: what about a woman who married several men?” As I’ve noted on the JI, I argue that JS originally (in principal) allowed women to have multiple sealings. So this is another solution, or as Martin noted above, “Personally, I simply can’t conceive of two exalted beings who would not rejoice in each other’s company, period.”

  73. Stephen, I think we are overestimating the level of interpersonal transformation that is likely to occur simply by virtue of death.

  74. True, but we can also continue to progress (that’s a common Mormon idea). And the Lord says the Celestial Kingdom had certain requirements (like DC 78:5-7; 38:27).

  75. probably_wrong says:

    Perhaps this could be resolved by the realization that we aren’t actually sealing anything in our sealing ordinances. The wording of the ordinance states this to be the case and, judging from the scriptures, only the Holy Spirit of Promise actually seals, doing so according to God’s will. There is no case I can find within the scriptures where a man received the sealing power from another man – only from God. If you know of one, I’d love to see it. Coupled with the comments in D&C 124 regarding the fullness of the priesthood, is it possible that we aren’t actually sealing anything, rendering this whole discussion moot? Joseph Smith certainly spoke of the sealing power differently than how we use it, and it seems to me that, if we accept the claims that we hold sealing power equal to that of Nephi, Melchizedek, etc., we have to confront the fact that Brigham Young used that sealing power to make a woman an eternal slave to Joseph Smith. Does that bind God? If not, then our sealings don’t actually bind anything. In effect, they aren’t sealings.

    This has always been a troubling topic for me.

  76. We can (and I hope, will) continue to progress, but the doctrine (such as it is) is pretty clear about bringing our selves with to the afterlife. Death doesn’t magically turn us into bodhisattvas Something about the same socialites, etc…

    The bottom line is, none of us can do anything more than speculate on anything eternal. But policy here that effects and harms one half of God’s children disproportionally is something that genuine pastoral care can and should address.

  77. AlsoAnon says:

    MDearest – I agree that this is a black cloud, and it’s getting bigger. The more I know about polygamy past, the more I know about the distress and pain of sealings presently, the less I even care about my own sealing. There’s not much joy in it when I know what others experience. I think the church has benefitted from our relative isolation from each other and wants us to feel happy if we “get ours,” and not fret or empathize in any meaningful way with others who get the short end of the stick. I think there is a Solidarity-type movement building, though.

  78. Steve, Tracy, I think it makes more sense to believe that there must be a lot more growth for us to undergo before we could be exalted beings dwelling with God. It can’t just be die, wait, get resurrected, and wallah, you’re godlike. I don’t think the scriptures pretend to deliver the details comprehensively, just pieces and objectives. I also think that Joseph’s statement about the “same sociality” (D&C 130:2) is as easily misunderstood as Paul’s statements about predestination. Again, the model we have to work with is instructive but limited.

  79. Scene: 15 senior Church officials, dressed in white, meeting in weekly session. What are they debating?

    AlsoAnon would have us believe that these men are fully aware of “the distress and pain of sealings presently,” and are plotting ways to keep us isolated one from another, because they “want us to feel happy” by remaining ignorant, or at least aloof, from others.

    Meanwhile, another faction would have us believe that these men, senile and out of touch, could not possibly be aware of the concerns of rank and file Church members.

    Please, could we at least keep our conspiracy theories consistent? Are these men doddering on the edge of dementia? or are they Machiavellian schemers? Inquiring minds want to know.

  80. Ardis, indeed. It’s hard to be nefarious and aphasic at the same time.

  81. AlsoAnon says:

    I wouldn’t say “plotting.” But our leaders tend toward the status quo, and our disconnect with outliers has kept most of the church very comfortable in the middle of the bell curve. I think it’s not just in the church – it’s everywhere that we are more aware and concerned now about those who don’t fit.

  82. AlsoAnon, that isn’t what you wrote before. But I’m happy to agree with and endorse this latter statement — we do seem to be moving into an era of greater concern, greater sensitivity to those who don’t fit the stereotype — and quite possibly none of us would recognize ourselves as the stereotype, so this is good news for all of us.

  83. Jennifer in GA says:

    — “I cannot help but believe if those in charge were actually facing this in their own lives (or the lives of their daughters) they might pay it more heed and give us something besides counsel to be more faithful.”—

    Tracy, you are spot on with this comment. The number of people I know effected by the sealing policies grows every single day, and it causes an enormous amount of pain for those envolved. Making it worse is that there seems to be no end in sight.

    Someone- presumably the brethren- need to make up their minds one way or another. Either the sealing ordainance of marriage is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER (as is beaten into the heads of millions of youth every Sunday) or it’s not (Don’t worry about it! It will all work out in the hereafter!). They can’t have it both ways.

  84. Count me in the camp that believes we don’t understand what “sealing” means – and we’re so lost in the details we can’t see the forest through the trees. I lean more old school; it matters more just that we are sealed into the family of God, his covenant people, than it does exactly whose line joins to yours. Where eternal marriage lands in this arrangement (shrug).

    Polygamy (past and current) sure makes a mess of things though, eh?

  85. Fortunately for me anyway, there’s plenty of recent Mormon themed science fiction that explores these very issues. l’m speaking of course about the Immortan Joe character from Mad Max Fury Road who is nothing but a thinly veiled Brigham Young. He parades around with his accountant chasing down his favorite My Five Wives all the way across the Great Basin and stops just shy of the Salt Flats.

    Before embarking on an eternity of exploring and rectifying all the various iterations of poly relationships, I’m definitely going to sit down and have a talk with Prophet Joseph specifically about those few years in Nauvoo. Relevant questions will include: Were you experiencing greater grandiosity than usual? Like being crowned king, becoming a general, and running for president? Any paranoia along the lines of believing your wife Emma might be trying to poison you? Probably will skip asking about hyper sexuality. Point being, even with our extraordinarily limited medical understanding, these symptoms are easily recognizable when exceptional charisma runs right off the tracks.

    “The high activity in the anterior cingulate cortex is associated with mania – a condition of overexcitement, euphoria and buoyant confidence – the very opposite of depression. One of the hallmarks of mania is an increased sense of meaningfulness. People in an advanced manic state see significance in every little thing and often think they have insight into some Grand Scheme in which each incident and thing is bound together in a mystical wholeness. The feeling of interconnectedness and enhanced significance is also experienced in paranoia, into which mania sometimes tips”. – p. 101

    “Meaningfulness is inextricably bound up with emotion. Depression is marked by wide-ranging symptoms but the cardinal feature of it is the draining of mining from life. People in a severe state of depression fail to see life as a unified pattern and start instead to see it as fragmented, incomprehensible sequence of pointless events. Social bonds are severed, normal actives seem purposeless, everything seems to be falling apart. By contract, those in a state of mania see life as a gloriously ordered, integrated whole. Everything seems to be connected to everything else and the smallest evens seem bathed in meaning. A person in this state is euphoric, full of energy flowing with love. These are also in a state of high creativity – the connections they see between things, which are often invisible or overlooked by others, are often used by them to make new concepts” – p. 202 Rita Carter Mapping The Mind

    Which sounds suspiciously like All Truth Can Be Circumscribed Into One Whole. A few years back a significant number of permas wrote about their experiences with depression, and I suspect there were a few who experienced the flip side. It’s probably an unpopular explanation of what Prophet Joseph was experiencing, but the experience of his son David Hyrum Smith is undeniable. We know these disorders are profoundly biological, and have a strong genetic component. My opinion is that polygamy falls under the category of things not to be taken seriously, but not to worry. I’m still adding to my shopping list of other mans’ wives just in case.

  86. Angela C says:

    “It’s hard to be nefarious and aphasic at the same time.” But I do my best.

  87. And Furiousa is obviously Eliza R. Snow, I mean it’s right there on the screen for anyone to see.

  88. Thank you Talon. It was so blatantly obvious I didn’t want to run the risk of condescendingly having to make that point. Snow’s poem Mental Gas is an obvious reference to Gas Town.

  89. Joggles says:

    “The practical, nut-and-bolts aspects of temple marriage as we perform it in this life makes me think either we don’t understand the first thing about the doctrine of sealing, or the whole thing is just so much baloney. Until we take a less bureaucratic approach to it–such as seal ’em all, let God sort ’em out–I don’t understand why anyone would think the way we do eternal families is a selling point.”

    Precisely! I have surprised more than one person by frankly stating my perspective that I envy other Christians their peaceful heaven. As I have fretted over this and gone through some serious doubts about whether God is a particularly nice individual, all I can come up with is that we don’t know the first thing about sealing. I tend to lean towards believing that the sealing is symbolic of the interconnectedness of all human beings. I have lost almost all sentimentality and hope surrounding eternal marriage. I’m marrying soon, and do not feel warm and fuzzy about having to agree to the temple covenants that will leave me vulnerable to polygamy. Having to keep a mental foot in the door of our marriage in case I will need to leave it after this life due to polygamy prevents me from feeling like a temple marriage means much of anything. I feel marginally better if I imagine that I am being sealed into the entire human family and that it isn’t really about marriage at all.

  90. the other Marie says:

    A minor quibble with this statement: “we only seal couples who were, in fact, married in life, preserving as best we can their autonomous lifetime choices”

    It is standard practice to posthumously seal a couple that produced a child, even if they never married or lived together, because until they are sealed to each other (if the child didn’t have a step or foster father who is the more logical sealing partner for its mother) the child can’t be sealed to its mother. (Though if an illegitimate child’s father’s identity is unknown and there is no step or foster father, you seal the child to its maternal grandparents.)

    So perhaps we feel that if a couple chose extramarital sex and produced a child, we assume that they chose the consequence: forced marriage.

  91. Clark Goble says:

    — “I cannot help but believe if those in charge were actually facing this in their own lives (or the lives of their daughters) they might pay it more heed and give us something besides counsel to be more faithful.”—

    Tracy, you are spot on with this comment. The number of people I know effected by the sealing policies grows every single day, and it causes an enormous amount of pain for those envolved. Making it worse is that there seems to be no end in sight.

    Just out of curiosity why do people assume the 12, the first presidency, and the seventy don’t know lots of people this affects? That would be highly unlikely. I can understand disagreeing with the current policy that’s become unwieldy as the Church has grown. But I think the idea they’re ignorant of the emotional costs is dubious. Given the number of grandchildren they have almost certainly by statistics alone many will become divorced.

  92. I have a few things to say from my own experience with this. My parents are divorced, and my father is currently sealed to two living women, my mother and my stepmother. It’s my understanding that my father wanted his sealing to my mother cancelled, but his request was denied. The reason given had something to do with my sisters and me not receiving blessings from being born in the covenant or sealed to parents. When I asked how the actions of two people could possibly deny me any blessings when I am being righteous, my dad and stepmother didn’t have an answer. It does seem ridiculous to me that my parents are still sealed when they have no desire to be together in this life, and they are both happily remarried. But oh well.

    Also, about the point of men matter if more than women. That was especially evident to me when I was going sealing at the Provo temple, and the sealer stopped to tell everyone that when the mother’s name is unknown, a family can still be sealed together. However, if the father’s name is unknown, the family cannot be sealed together because we live in a patriarchal order and the man’s name is important. I was sitting there quite angry thinking, “so we’re actively denying families the opportunity to be sealed together now and rejoice in heaven because heaven forbid we don’t have the man’s name, but we have the other family members’ names? As if God doesn’t know who these men are.”

    Anyway, I was upset and told my dad about this sealing practice. He hadn’t heard of it, and it didn’t seem right to him. He wondered if it was just something done in Provo. However that kind of decision would seem like a church – wide policy to me. Have any of you ever heard of this policy?

    And the sealer also told us that when a living family is sealed with multiple children, the man has to be at the head of the alter.

  93. Sorry for all the errors. I think there were some autocorrect issues.

  94. Clark, if they *are* aware of how stark the difference is between how men and women are handled in the sealing process, it underscores my impressions that we just don’t matter much at all. I would really prefer to think it hasn’t effected them much, and that God is not a jerk.

  95. Not all sealings will be efficacious in the next life – only those sealed by the “Holy Spirit of Promise.” I think this is significant in this analysis.

  96. Mary, the sealer was right that the man’s name must be known, although the woman’s name may remain unknown, and that it has a connection to patriarchy, but he was pathetically ill-informed and idiotically clumsy in his explanation.

    As the record keeping system exists now, a person (whether male or female) must be uniquely identifiable — ideally by full name and by exact date and place of birth. When that full information is not available, there is a hierarchy of substitute data to provide the necessary unique identification: an “about” birth date, a date or marriage or death, or relationship to another identifiable person. The standards of what makes someone “uniquely identifiable” have changed from time to time: You used to be able to seal a person (man or woman) to unknown parents by calling them merely “Mr. [Surname]” and “Mrs. [Surname] — that is no longer done.

    Right now, the system is more lenient to incomplete information for women than it is for incomplete information for men. That is, before a couple sealing can be done, you must have both first and last name of the man, but the woman can be known by only her first or only her last names, or without a name at all. IOW, the man must be known as “John Smith” before any ordinances are permitted for him, but the woman can be known as simply “Mary” or “Miss Jones” or even “Mrs. John Smith.”

    The tie to patriarchy is that men’s names have historically been preserved at a much higher rate than women’s names. More diligent research may eventually turn up the name of the man, but the woman’s name may never have been recorded in the first place. In the case you mention, it’s premature to do a sealing — it doesn’t mean that a sealing can never be done, but it needs to wait until further information is available. And the sealer was ill-informed and something of a patriarchal jerk himself to invent or repeat an idiotic explanation like that. This is purely a matter of maintaining order in the recordkeeping, the modern extension of D&C 127:9: “And again, let all the records be had in order, that they may be put in the archives of my holy temple, to be held in remembrance from generation to generation, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

    The record-keeping system may change in the future as it has in the past, and the sealing you refer to may be done either because of those changes, or because someone has made a breakthrough in research, or because the time eventually comes when there is clearer communication between people on both sides of the veil. But the current practice is absolutely not because the man and his name is any more important in any eternal sense than the woman and her name; it’s a weakness of the current and past systems of recordkeeping.

  97. So Ardis, you’re saying that the reason the woman’s name is not necessary is because people did such a poor job of keeping records of women’s names historically? I’m still confused about the situation where the woman’s name is known but her husband’s isn’t. Why can’t they be sealed? For example, I’ve done sealing where the woman’s was just called mother I think. Couldn’t the man just have a filler name like father or husband? I don’t know that much about our record keeping methods, so maybe I’m not understanding something.

  98. And he said unto Jesus, And who is my spouse?

  99. They could, Mary, but they don’t, just like they could but don’t do ordinances for #1, #2, #3 … #638,921,967,105 (or however many people they estimate have ever lived), and leave it up to God to assign those numbers to people so that “it will all work out in the eternities.” People need to be identified before ordinances are done.

    They’ve tried a number of identification and record keeping systems in the past: I mentioned the old system where you could seal children to a couple who themselves had been sealed to each other as “Mr. Smith and Mrs. Smith.” But the files ended up so full of nearly anonymous ordinances with no way to know whether work had been done for all the Misters Smith in the world, or work done 30 times for the same Mr. Smith, that they dropped that policy and chucked all the ordinances that had been done in behalf of these unknown and unnamed people.

    They tried a system of assigning an “heir” for each family, and identifying everybody in relation to that heir: You could seal a couple who were the “great-great-grandparents of Heir XYZ” or who were the “third-cousin-once-removed and third-cousin-once-removed-in-law of Heir XYZ” (I’m not kidding — the relationships were that convoluted). But as the Church got larger and my great-great-great-grandmother was discovered to be the same person as your third-cousin-once-removed-in-law, there was no meaningful identification that prevented massive duplication and ensured that work could be done for everybody with any degree of certainty.

    You might think computers solve the problem by assigning a unique identification number. But anybody with several generations of Mormon ancestors has found piles of duplicates in digitized temple files that need to be merged.

    Right now, the Church has decided that the minimum information needed to identify a couple for sealing ordinances is the first and last name of the husband. The important point is that this minimum is NOT because men are more important or because patriarchy governs. It’s because there is no way to uniquely identify a couple and ensure valid ordinances and eliminate wasteful duplicates if they allow sealings for couples in both the forms of “John Smith and unknown wife” and also “Mary and unknown husband.”

    That’s the current practice. They may come up with a better alternative in future, or your continued research may turn up the husband’s name, at which point the sealing can be done.

    But the practice is most definitely not because men are more important in any spiritual or ecclesiastical sense, but only because men’s names, being more often recorded and, in most western cultures, more stable than women’s names, make a better key to unique identification.

  100. Ardis, thank you for that detailed and patient explanation. Convenient or not, even today, women’s names frequently change, and men’s seldom do. I have had five legal names (birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, marriage again). I think about the nightmare that would be for someone to unravel, and I hope the provenance is solid enough in my records that I won’t be lost.

  101. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we value historians who can help separate the fact from wild speculation.

    I’d vote for Ardis to be the next Assistant Church Historian, but then we’d lose Keepapitchinin :(

  102. Thanks for the explanation. That makes a lot more sense. I guess that sealer had no idea what he was talking about with the explanation he gave everyone.

  103. Nope. He made assumptions (or accepted assumptions passed on to him by someone else) and presented them as facts — unaware, no doubt, of the harm those assumptions can cause.

  104. Ardis, that took time to explain all that. Thank you.

  105. My wife and I visited Palmyra NY and the Hill of Cummorah. There is a nice visitor center there where we were escorted into a room and saw an emotional film on the LDS belief of eternal families. After the film we were asked if we believed in eternal families as United Methodists? I told him I would think about that. We went through this wonderful section of the history of the restored church and the prophets words. I returned to our guide after much thought and said. We do believe in the eternal family God, and I would say we do believe in relationships united again; but I thought we over all believed it will be so different that such issues are not a burden to us, God would sort it out.

  106. If I understand the tenor of this conversation correctly, many seem to think that my reward for spending three decades caring for a wife dying of multiple autoimmune failures should be to either spend my remaining time alone after she departs or get involved in a relationship that has no potential to carry through to eternity simply because it makes some people uncomfortable.

  107. I would find much more comfort in our policy/doctrine if women were given the same options to get involved in relationships that have potential to carry through to eternity as their dearly departed husbands would have under the same conditions.

  108. Moss,

    Is your concern conjectural or based on a real-world exigency?

  109. samupp- women have to make that call all the time. That’s the point. It’s not fair, and the field should be leveled.

  110. Apparently your mother never gave you the “life’s not fair” lecture. Appeals to fairness hold little interest for me. It wasn’t fair that Abraham had to go through much of his life childless and then offer the promised heir on an altar. At the most extreme end, it’s not fair that the only sinless person to ever walk the Earth had to suffer and die due to the fact that the rest of us are far more disobedient than the dirt we walk on.

    But let’s presume that I believe that a just, kind and merciful Father is not capable of working with His children to resolve issues such as these and I further buy your “it’s not fair” scenario. There are basically two options at that point. One of them is to distribute the misery equally. The other is to say that Joseph was wrong and we’re not creating a family tree. We’re creating a fishing net.

  111. Being a Catholic, I don’t have a dog in this hunt. But I do have to wonder, if marriage transcends death, why should anyone be able to contract any kind of marriage after the death of a spouse, even a temporal one?

    After all, if a spouse moves to a foreign country for a year, we do not permit the spouse in the United States to contract a six month marriage while the spouse is away. What is the difference between that scenario and allowing a widowed Mormon sealed in the temple to marry someone else in any capacity?

    To my mind, as long as the Mormon church permits its members to contract any kind of marriage after temple sealing is to practice polygamy. If the Mormon church really wants to abandon polygamy, then it should require Mormons sealed in the temple to be faithful to their spouses even after death and abstain from remarriage (adultery). If the Mormon leaders are unwilling to do that, then they should suck it up and admit that they both believe and practice polygamy.

    I do also have to say, as a woman, the fact that Mormon men are permitted to be sealed to more than one wife (and not the other way around) seems indicative of an ideology that views women as a commodity. That is a damnable position.

  112. I agree that we need to eliminate all perceived, gender-based inequities from our theology. To that end, I propose that we strike the biblical commandment that men are required to lay down their lives for their wives with no reciprocal requirement for the women. This should be a reasonable starting point as the number of men throughout history who’ve sacrificed their lives for their wives dwarfs the number of women who’ve made the same sacrifice. The latter group is undoubtedly larger than the number of women who will wake up on Resurrection Morning asking themselves, “Who am I sharing him with?” It also eliminates the commoditization of men as we will no longer tell them that their lives are not as important as the lives of the women they are related to.

  113. If I understand the tenor of this conversation correctly, many seem to think that my reward for spending three decades caring for a wife dying of multiple autoimmune failures should be to either spend my remaining time alone after she departs or get involved in a relationship that has no potential to carry through to eternity simply because it makes some people uncomfortable.

    This post reminds me of a parable Jesus tells about a servant who serves his master while his master is away. When the master returns home, the good servant does not brag about merely fulfilling his obligation. He does not demand a reward or a pat on the back. Rather, he continues to serve his master eagerly. The servant understands that he has done nothing special, nothing deserving of praise, merely by doing what he was supposed to do, what he promised to do.

  114. emmasrandomthoughts,

    Read your own opinions into other people’s words much? I thought so.

    If you think that my comment posted above is tantamount to boasting, you and I have a radically different definition of what boasting might be. I made the comment due to an observation that there seem to be two variants of pain and suffering, only one of which is politically correct. You have confirmed this fact.

    I would like to thank you for proving the point I was seeking in this phase of my experiment. Knowing nothing about me, you have projected your own beliefs onto me and what I have posted. For what it’s worth, aside from those whose lives and work are directly impacted by my need to take care of my wife, none of my colleagues know that she is dying. I only inform people at work that I am taking her to her various appointments when they directly collide with my work schedule and I can’t explain it away otherwise.

    I used my own experience for two reasons only. The first is that it was the easiest starting point I could use to try to collect the data point I was looking for. The second is the fact that it could not be debunked by anyone as a mere hypothetical to score cheap points as it has been my daily experience for a number of years. In the event that someone was willing to actually have a substantive conversation on the matter, I was more than willing to engage, however I fully expected someone to level your accusation or one like it at some point. This is not the first time I have run a variant on this test. I mentioned it to my son yesterday while he was over visiting, helping my wife with several things she needed done. He laughed and asked why I was trying to prove the obvious.

    In closing, I will give you a stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”. I could have quoted it to you from memory since it’s something I repeat to myself often throughout the day. It and the 23rd Psalm are my mantras. It’s also posted on the wall over the computer I’m using and is in the folder that I use to track my daily and weekly work and home tasks.

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;

    Thank you for playing and have a nice day.

  115. Awkward bit is, that if we take eternal marriage seriously, marriages after a spouse’s death are really just adultery, if they’re not in fact, ‘vestigial poligamy’

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