The title of this post might seem either trivially true or too vague to be useful, so let me unpack it a bit and then use an example to see if it’s more clear. I have found that a lot of “Cafeteria” or “Middle-Way” Mormons (maybe the “StayLDS” or John Dehlin crowd) compartmentalize some of the more troublesome doctrines of the LDS church by sort of mythologizing them. However, I wonder if this renders Mormonism less coherent as a result.
Here’s an example: Celestial, or Eternal, Marriage. Now if we take the literalist/traditionalist view in Mormonism, there are those who believe that the point of Eternal Marriage is that exalted men and women become literally like Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, and have literal spirit children and dominions just as Heavenly Father does. Gender is an eternal principle, and the male-female pair is necessary for the production of spirit children, and thus, a married couple is the fundamental building block of Godhood, and eternal families are just that.
Now I’m not saying that’s official church doctrine today, just that it seems that the traditionalists in the church defend this concept, and I believe that the early church leaders that shaped things like temple marriage, polygamy, and sealings were operating on that paradigm. Someone could argue with me on that, probably, but let’s just go with it.
Now a Middle-Way Mormon might argue that perhaps we don’t have to accept the whole Gods/spirit babies/dominions thing in order to accept temple sealings. Their line of thinking might be something like: instead of seeing the eternal couple as a literal spirit baby-making machine, we might take a more moderate view and see celestial marriage as simply a bonding together of two people of complementary genders. On this view, a husband and wife in eternity are simply a “node” in the eternal family. I would venture to say that in the modern LDS church, especially among the young faithful, this is a dominant view – if not dominant, then a strong competitor.
They might still argue that this concept is better than the traditional Christian concept, because instead of “till death do you part,” and instead of getting to heaven and seeing everyone as the same, we will still view our spouses “as our spouses.” For instance, on the PBS documentary series The Mormons, LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland said this:
We believe that marriage is eternal. One of the fundamental premises of this church is that family is forever. I know, in my life, that it won’t be heaven without my wife, and it will not be heaven without my children, because that’s true, and if that’s some eternal principle, and if there’s something eternally splendid about that, then God in his goodness must have some way to let everybody share in as much of that as possible. And I believe that our doctrine points toward that.
So there seems to be this strong idea that “it wouldn’t be heaven without [our families]” as our families, and not as another being in heaven.
However, I wonder if removing the literal view (that spouses are required to produce eternal spirit children) robs the doctrine of its coherence. To illustrate what I mean, let’s imagine a conversation between a hypothetical Mormon and an Orthodox interlocutor.
Mormon: Temple sealings and eternal marriages are crucial to us, because we believe that it wouldn’t be heaven without our families.
Orthodox: But we also believe that we will be in heaven with our families, if our families are saved and enter into the Kingdom with us. I’ll be there, and my husband will be there, and my children will be there. What’s the difference?
Mormon: Ah, but the difference is that you won’t see your husband as your husband, you will merely see him as another person in heaven.
Orthodox: But wait, on my view, in heaven we will still retain our memories, right?
Mormon: I’ll grant you that, but on the Christian view, you will no longer view your husband as a husband. You will see him “merely” as a brother, like any other person on the planet, including your children.
Orthodox: So my husband will be there, and I’ll be there, and I’ll still have my memories of my husband in heaven. Isn’t it up to me how I see him? Couldn’t I still consider him my husband, or something similar, in heaven? Our love is not something that was imposed from the outside – it was something that was generated within each of us for the other. As long as our memories of each other aren’t erased, we could still hold a special place for each other in our hearts, and share the same relationship we have now, minus the physical procreation which will be unnecessary.
Mormon: But on our view, the temple creates a “special” bond that goes beyond a mere relationship and it lasts through the eternities. I don’t know what it is, but there is something more to marriage in the eternities than just all of us being disconnected spirit children of God.
Orthodox: But unless you can tell me, concretely, what exactly that “special” bond does to a marriage that I don’t already have internally for my husband, I’m not sure why I need a Celestial Marriage. What’s the real difference? What’s the “special sauce” that makes temple marriage different?
Mormon: I can’t say exactly, but I have faith that there will be a difference, and I know that families are forever.
End of discussion. The idea here is that if the literal procreative element is gone from the LDS doctrine of temple marriage, it becomes very unclear what exactly a temple marriage imparts to a relationship that traditional Christians don’t already believe will exist. There’s this myth among the Mormons that Christian doctrine teaches that families who are all together in heaven will somehow get this weird amnesia where they will no longer regard each other with the love that they have on Earth now – that their children and spouses will be reduced to something like strangers. But I don’t know any Christian doctrine that teaches that, nor any Christians who believe that. For most Christians including the Orthodox, families will still love each other absolutely when they reach heaven, they will simply lack the physical and temporal procreative elements that are necessary to build families here on Earth (sex, babies, growing children, keeping a house together, etc.). At most, the traditional view is that the Earthly family is simply a microcosm of the heavenly family – that our family love here on Earth will expand to include all of God’s children, not just the few that we were born around!