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Ritual Violence III

Jana at SunstoneBlog added another facet to my story about what I’m calling ritual violence. For whatever reason, ritual is important to human beings. Excluding us from ceremony symbolically severs our ties to the community.

Please indulge me in a thought experiment. Imagine you belonged to a church that has ceremonies to mark various milestones in a person’s life: birth, coming of age, marriage, etc. Imagine that you are not allowed to witness these rituals. Only the leaders of your church (and the participants themselves) are allowed to be present. You and your spouse give birth to a beautiful baby. You take the child to your church to have their auspicious birth recognized in ritual. You hand over the tender infant to one of your leaders which they take into another room. They close and lock the door behind themselves. You wait in passive silence on the other side until the ceremony is over.

Later, when your child is turning the corner into puberty, you repeat the process. Again you wait on the outside of a locked door while the ceremony is performed.

Again this happens when your child is to be married. You are not allowed to witness the marriage of this child who you’ve nurtured and loved throughout their life.

Now, how would you feel? Would you shrug it off as God’s will? Or would you feel some outrage to be excluded from your child’s life? Would you feel like violence had been done to you?

At some level, this thought experiment is real for me. If my daughters decide to be married in the Mormon temple, I will be excluded from full participation in the ceremony. I raised them more closely than anyone except my wife. I wiped their tears, cleaned up after them, loved them when they were least lovable, worked hard to provide for their needs, transformed myself to be a better father for them, taught them everything I could, and devoted my very being to them; and on the day that they are married, I might be locked outside while others share this joyous moment in my daughters’ lives?!

This is justified in LDS doctrine because I don’t meet their standards for worthiness to enter their temple. According to their doctrine, these are God’s standards. They may regret any pain it causes, but they are powerless to alter God’s decrees.

So blithely is violence rationalized! I ask, who is more worthy to share in my daughters’ lives than their father and mother? Which should weigh heavier on the balance of worthiness: the sacrifices of a loving parent, or obsequious obedience to the dictates of an authority which prick the conscience of every honest person? The LDS church would exclude me from my daughters’ marriage because I haven’t paid them 10% of my income. Extortion much?

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  1. paranoidfr33k said,

    January 16, 2008 @ 3:55 pm

    We both understand the indoctrination involved in this, but I would have to say that it is ultimately up to the couple to decide if they are married outside the temple regarding being married in the temple, at the same time being sealed. The problem is that they are never given that chance and it never occurs to them that they have a choice.

    If a couple decided to get married civilly first, I can’t see any reason why the church would not allow that and then allow them to be sealed just after, or something like that. I went to England on my mission and found that this is exactly what they have to do there. They are civilly married and then they go to the temple. They do this due to the local laws, but thats just my point… why can’t the couple be married civilly and then sealed in the temple afterwards?

    When my wife and I were married/sealed in the temple, her grandmother and aunt were the only family on her side that could attend. I never thought about it much, but I recently had a conversation with my wife about it where she voiced her opinion that I now share, being that she can’t see how the church excludes family from one of the most important experiences in ones life due to the fact that they don’t have a temple recommend.

    Everyone says how family oriented the church is, but I have issues with that. I see a lot of problems that the church community puts on the family, especially after seeing things from my wifes perspective. I never thought about it until I started my own family and decided that I want my kids to have a better family life than my own. Thats to say that I want to improve on the good upbringing I had by making it even better for my children.

    Has anyone heard of a couple, in the United States, where they have had a civil marriage and then sealed in the temple, probably on the same day, so that their family could attend?


  2. paranoidfr33k said,

    January 16, 2008 @ 4:02 pm

    Follow-up to my own comment… I think that there are things done in the church just because thats how its been done and nobody messes with it. My question above is pointed at bridging a gap that many of us may have to deal with once we leave the church. Is there any doctrinal reason why a couple can’t be married outside the temple so that everyone can attend and then be sealed afterward?


  3. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 16, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

    Actually, my great grand parents (I forget which ones) had to get sealed in the Arizona temple. In order to travel there, they had to get married first: it simply wouldn’t do to have an unmarried couple traveling together without supervision. So this used to happen, at least in the past.

    I think the current way of doing things is a product of that’s-how-it’s-done thinking plus an attitude that getting married civilly first shows that God isn’t your true priority. I think I’ve also heard some speculation that if you had the chance to be sealed but choose to be married civilly first and die before you make it to the temple then God will tell you that you’re SOL. Pretty petty in my book.

    If the LDS church were truly family oriented, its leaders would encourage couples with family or friends who couldn’t attend a temple sealing to get married outside the temple first where all can witness it, then be sealed afterwards, just as you suggest.

  4. Allen said,

    January 17, 2008 @ 5:41 am

    Interesting topic and comments! My wife and I were married in the SL temple, and her mother and father didn’t attend. Her mother was active LDS and understood, but her father was a non-member and probably didn’t understand. We’re talking about tradition, and people have a hard time going against tradition much less trying to change tradition. I know of several people who had ring ceremonies outside the temple in an attempt to bring non-member family into the wedding. My son was married in the SL temple, and during the ring ceremony that was held during the wedding dinner after the wedding, the person conducting the ceremony gave a special presentation to my daughter-in-law’s family (all non-members) about the Mormon view of marriage and temple marriage. My daughter-in-law’s mother came forward and stood with the couple as the ring was presented (her father was not present or he would have come forward, too).

  5. John Remy said,

    January 17, 2008 @ 8:03 am

    Thank you–that was a powerful thought experiment. Now I have a little more empathy for my dad, who refused to participate in any aspect of my marriage to Jana because he couldn’t attend the sealing.

    I usually think of the temple requirements in terms of social control. I think that they do more than almost any other social mechanism to keep people in the Church who would otherwise leave (I’d like to think that it backfired with us, because now that we’ve left, I’m sure that it’s a subconscious motivation to influence our children from becoming active again). I know a number of members who are minimally active, pay tithing, and keep quiet in church despite their moral or cognitive issues so that they can attend their children’s weddings. After reading this, I am going to add the social violence element to it. You hit the nail on the head with the word “extortion.”

    One more thought: the final straw, and the one that helped Jana to cross over the line, was knowing that even as a faithful member, my daughter could not experience the same rites of passage as my son. The thought experiment can apply in small part to women in the Church.

  6. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 17, 2008 @ 10:09 am


    While it is nice that the couple is trying to be inclusive with a ring ceremony, the fact that they are already married at that point still rankles.

    John R,

    (cool favicon, BTW)

    It’s an important point. Ritual violence not only happens to non-Mormons or Mormons who don’t toe the line, but also to faithful, obedient Mormons who were born with the wrong complement of chromosomes. The Mormon God—the Abrahamic God really—sure seems to put a lot of importance on the state of your DNA.

  7. Allen said,

    January 17, 2008 @ 10:27 am

    While it is nice that the couple is trying to be inclusive with a ring ceremony, the fact that they are already married at that point still rankles.

    I agree.

  8. Green Oasis » Ritual Violence IV said,

    January 23, 2008 @ 2:40 pm

    [...] of getting engaged in the LDS church. It illustrates pretty well what I was trying to say in my last ritual violence post: it goes without saying that this destroyed my father. i’m an only child. my mother abandoned [...]

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