Poor Wayfaring Man

My mom and dad married in the Salt Lake Temple at the ages of 18 and 19, respectively. They were civilly divorced when I was still a little kid.

By “civilly divorced”, I don’t mean to say that the divorce process was completed in a civil manner, without petty bickering (though I believe that is true). I mean they were legally divorced. Free, in the eyes of the state, to remarry and move on with their lives.

This is an important point, because their divorce was not fully recognized by the LDS Church. Their marriage in the temple was both a civil marriage and a religious marriage–a ritual (or “ordinance“) in which my mom and dad had been “sealed” to each other, not just “till death do [them] part”, but “for time and all eternity.” From the perspective of the LDS Church, they continued to be sealed together for eternity as husband and wife, despite the civil divorce.

I think there is a similar dynamic at play in Catholic “sacramental” marriages that end in divorce–the divorce isn’t recognized by the Catholic Church, and any remarriages occur with that in mind. In the Catholic Church, if the marriage is sacramental, neither of the divorcees will be married in the Church again. In the LDS Church, it’s a bit different. My parents’ story continues:

Years after the divorce, my mom remarried, not in an LDS temple. In fact, when she ended her marriage to my dad, she also ended her participation in the LDS Church. My dad had been remarried too, not long after the divorce, but his remarriage was performed in the Salt Lake Temple, and as a result he was sealed in an eternal marriage to a lovely woman who had never been married before.

For those of you keeping score, in the eyes (and the records) of the LDS Church, my dad was now simultaneously eternally married to two living women, and both of those women were eternally married to my dad, and nobody else.

Around the year 2000, decades after my parents’ civil divorce, my mom’s new husband realized that in the Mormon world, she had been living as my dad’s “spiritual” wife the whole time. He was thoroughly creeped out, and very dismayed that there had been no “temple divorce”. He asked my mom to make sure that the temple divorce was made official, so she looked into it.

Surprisingly (to me, at least), the polygamous union was not just a record-keeping anomaly, and dissolving it wasn’t a mere formality that the Church could take care of right away. No, here is what had to happen for the Church to acknowledge that she was no longer my dad’s wife:

  1. She had to obtain, from her local LDS bishop, an application form asking the First Presidency to cancel her sealing to my dad;
  2. The application form required a letter from her, addressed to the First Presidency, explaining why she wanted to have the sealing canceled;
  3. The application form also required a letter from my dad, also addressed to the First Presidency, agreeing to cancellation of the sealing;
  4. The completed application could only be submitted for First Presidency review by the senior local ecclesiastical authority, the stake president, who was required to interview her and attach his own written approval before sending off the application.
  5. The First Presidency, in its sole discretion, would decide whether or not to cancel the sealing.
  6. She would receive written confirmation of the First Presidency’s decision.

To dissolve the polygamous sealing, my mom had to get the permission of not only five different leaders of the Church, but also her already remarried ex-husband. And it wasn’t a quick process. Step 6 was completed a full nine months from the time that my mom initiated Step 1 (and it was on the desk of the First Presidency for six of those months).

If, as President Gordon B. Hinckley (whose signature, incidentally, is on my mom’s sealing cancellation letter) once asserted, in the LDS Church the practice of polygamy is “not doctrinal”,1 then what do we call the doctrine supporting the LDS Church practice of sealing my dad to both my mom and my stepmom?



  1. Larry King: You condemn it [polygamy].

    Gordon B. Hinckley: I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law.

    –1998 Larry King interview of Gordon B. Hinckley, prophet and President of the LDS Church []

3 Responses to “Polygyny?”

  • Deep Throat in the Deep South Says:

    If and when a person breaks their covenants, their “sealing” is gone. This is parallel principle to the truth that if you break your baptism covenants, you lose the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Likewise, a priesthood holder who is not worthy (for private personal reasons which he doesn’t bother confessing) has no power, as in amen (end) to his priesthood.

    That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. D&C 121: 37

    To believe for one minute that your parents, who are divorced and do not want to be together in this life or the next, will somehow be “forced” to be married in the next life goes against all logic.

    And why do I say it is illogical. First and foremost, it would mean that they both are going to get to the top level of the Celestial Kingdom (remember, even the Celestial Kingdom is split into at least three areas, and only in the highest are people married for time and all eternity.) Do you really expect your mother even wants to be there? And if both of your parents do make it, do you really think that putting them back together being together would constitute “glory.”

    Second, it goes against intelligent thinking….and is not our God an intelligent God who tells us that his glory is intelligence.

    You will never find flaws in God’s logic. You will find flaws in the way certain people live, and perhaps it is that dichotomy that has help you walk to the edge of Mormonism to “camp.”

    God has no dichotomy in his truths or laws. If he did he would cease to be God (See Alma 42: 13, 22, 25) Which brings up another topic for another discussion…Even a God can “cease to be God” as a result of breaking laws. Hmmmmm.

    All truth can be circumscribed into one great whole. If any idea or believe you have does not fit and harmonize with other truths, then it…cannot be a truth. Again, the idea that your parents sealing will be some sort of “triumph card” deciding their eternal pairing beyond anything they have done which lead to their divorce and the subsequent choices they made after the divorce goes against every idea of choice and accountability and saved by “works” as well as faith.

    And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments. (D&C 93:27)

    Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. [underline added for emphasis] (D&C 93:31)

    ALL scriptures about eternal progression or condemnation (i.e., condemnation or damnation means none progression) apply to people who were and were not sealed in the temple. Again, your supposition that your mother continued to be your fathers “spiritual wife” flies directly in the face of truth. It is “Cultural Thinking and you know it’s not true.

    To believe such a thing is a total dichotomy of the gospel…but you can’t resolve the issue by studying the scriptures o fasting and praying because, because…well, you tell me.

    Perhaps by sitting on the “periphery” and camp you don’t have to be responsible for what you should be doing…how you should be serving, the priesthood you should be honoring…the lives you could be blessing…the truth you could be teaching. Let me ask you, is it hard to “kick at the pricks?” Of course not. Blogs like yours are a dime a dozen.

    “Oh my gosh, there is a dichotomy between cultural thinking and the truth! Well, guess I’ll be inactive!”

    You are too smart for this. Take down your tent and hike back to the middle where you can teach. You see the conflict of the culture and the doctrine and use it as an excuse to live outside, instead of using your intelligence and teaching others why “cultural thinking” is wrong and the true gospel of Jesus Christ is right.

    Generally, the only time anyone bothers with a Sealing Cancelation is to be remarried in the temple. The sealing cancelation assures that the two people are truly divorce and have no chance of reconciliation in this life or the next. This is an administrative action. Some people live together, having been sealed, but are breaking the commandments (in secret) they have covenanted to uphold. Do your really consider them still “sealed?” They are not. They may appear to be sealed to those who sit next to them in church, but, their sealing dissolved in the sin they chose to love. Every blessing we have is predicated upon a law. You break the law, the blessing is gone.

    There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (D&C 130: 20-21)

    One must be intelligent not to confuse administrative actions with the Gospel of Jesus Christ (i.e. truth) in its purest mode. There is a different between administration of earthly issues, the Truth of the Gospel, and, and what I call the “Doctrine of the Culture,” that some people cling to instead of the doctrine.

    Fight the culture. Live the gospel! Serve the Lord.

  • Poor Wayfaring Man Says:

    Deep Throat,

    I can appreciate the effort you have put into explaining how the fact that my dad was sealed to my mom and step-mom simultaneously doesn’t make sense in your view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m flattered that you would care enough to write it all down. I think you may, perhaps, be placing a little too much emphasis on the effect that sin has on Priesthood ordinances and the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

    Under your formulation of the concept, the Priesthood is basically impotent and useless, shrinking and extinguishing the moment somebody chooses the wrong. How far do you really want to go with that idea? Because one can, without much effort at all, use it to negate everybody’s temple endowments, send the Holy Ghost fleeing back to Kolob, and destroy the whole raison d’être of the LDS Church. In your view, does the Atonement of Jesus Christ have any lasting effect on the lives of people, or is it just as helpless against sin as every other structural component of His Gospel?

    You have explained why you feel you have reached, with logical certainty, the conclusion that my parents’ eternal marriage was spontaneously aborted in its infancy according to the laws of God, but what you haven’t explained is why, if my parents weren’t actually sealed in 2000, President Hinckley felt the need to issue an official cancellation of the sealing. He didn’t say in the letter that cancellation was just a mere formality, or an empty and meaningless administrative matter. Are you saying you have logically deduced that President Hinckley sat on the paperwork for six months as a feckless bureaucrat, rather than as God’s greatest living Prophet deliberating over a grave matter carrying eternal consequences?


  • moe0204 Says:

    If you want the ordinance cancelled on the records of the church, it’s just a formality. The LDS church is all about agency and no one married in the Temple is actually sealed until they live in a way that would not harm the other and in fact, to qualify for the actualization of the blessing of a temple sealing a person has to have developed the capacity to love their spouse to the point that they care about the well being of the other person even over their own. They have to deeply love each other so much that death cannot keep them apart.
    True, no one totally grows to that point in life, but those who really try and want to be together forever have faith in the atonement to enable them to overcome the mortal flaws that would disqualify them to be together for ever.

    In the end. If it’s not even true then who cares what the Mormon’s think? It’s either real or irrelevant. People who don’t even want to be together forever don’t have to waste one ounce of their time worrying about being forced to be with someone they hate anymore than they were forced to stay in the church once they left.
    The church and the people in it only have the power over you that you give them. Trust me, most of them have a full enough plate trying to get to where they WANT to go.
    Why don’t you just let them be flawed and be learning and just worry about your own ideas and weaknesses which may be hurting others too, whether you can see that or not.

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