Shopping for a Celestial Marriage


The last line of Elder Nelson’s conference talk states that we “may be assured of exaltation in the kingdom of God.” What an amazing promise. He makes this wonderful declaration to the Saints conditional upon several requirements. In doing so, he is speaking on behalf of the Lord as a prophet and apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is only repeating what the Lord has promised.

One of those requirements of course, is to be married in the temple and to have that marriage sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Elder Nelson’s discourse is entitled Celestial Marriage, which is another name for temple marriage. What he taught on Sunday afternoon was not new. He did not share anything that we haven’t been taught in the church for as long as I can recall.

Teaching with patterns

And yet, there were some who claimed that what he said was harsh, crude, unfair and unkind. They seemed particularly upset that he had used a shopping analogy which he called, “patterns of the shopper.” Go figure. These are the same people that were upset at Elder Bednar when he taught us the parable of the pickle – one of my all-time favorite conference talks. I love parables.

In the shopper analogy, Elder Nelson referred to lesser alternatives. He said that wise shoppers study their options before making their selection. They focus on quality and durability. In contrast, some shoppers look for bargains only to discover that their choice did not endure well. And sadly, there are those who try to steal what they want. We call them shoplifters.

The analogy applied to marriage

Making the analogy, he said, “A couple in love can choose a marriage of the highest quality or a lesser type that will not endure. Or they can choose neither and brazenly steal what they want as marital shoplifters.” He later said, “Some marital options are cheap, some are costly, and some are cunningly crafted by the adversary. Beware of his options. They always breed misery.”

Elder Nelson was pointing out that some have decided a marriage outside of the temple is acceptable to them. He clearly stated that such marriages are of a lesser type, but can be upgraded at any time. His reference to shoplifters who try to steal a marriage was clearly intended to identify same-sex marriage as false, and not a marriage at all in the eyes of God.

More than a hopeful wish

But that may not have been the portion of his discourse that elicited the declaration of harsh by some who were watching and providing an online commentary. Elder Nelson clearly pointed out that to receive the reward of a celestial marriage requires more than a hopeful wish. It requires making a wise choice in this life and can’t be put off until the next, as many apparently suppose.

“On occasion, I read in a newspaper obituary of an expectation that a recent death has reunited that person with a deceased spouse, when, in fact, they did not choose the eternal option. Instead, they opted for a marriage that was valid only as long as they both should live. Heavenly Father had offered them a supernal gift, but they refused it. And in rejecting the gift, they rejected the Giver of the gift.”

The seven deadly heresies

This reminds me of a quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie in a discourse delivered at BYU many years ago entitled, “The Seven Deadly Heresies.” He tells the story of a man, not a member of the Church who lived a life that was after the manner of the world. His wife, who was a member, and as faithful as she could be under the circumstances, asked him one day:

“You know the Church is true; why won’t you be baptized?” He replied, “Of course I know the Church is true, but I have no intention of changing my habits in order to join it. I prefer to live the way I do. But that doesn’t worry me in the slightest. I know that as soon as I die, you will have someone go to the temple and do the work for me and everything will come out all right.”

It was a complete waste of time

“He died and she had the work done in the temple. We do not…deny vicarious ordinances to people. But what will it profit him? There is no such thing as a second chance to gain salvation. This life is the time and the day of our probation. After this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.”

The quote above is the text that is found on the BYU website. But you can also listen to the recording and hear him say, referring to the fact that he died and the woman had his temple work done. “He did, and she did and it was a complete waste of time.” Now I know this has been discussed and dismissed by many on the online discussion forums, but it still rings true to me.

Reaction in online discussions

I have read blog entries from several individuals, whose husbands are not members, who said they just cringed when Elder Nelson was relating the pattern of the shopper. Some said they were glad their husbands were not present to hear the story. Others reported how discouraged and depressed they felt to realize that their marriage had been labeled to be of lesser value.

I’m not sure why this doctrine comes as a shock to so many when they hear it for the first time. I know Elder Nelson did not intend to offend anyone, especially those who did not marry in the temple. I can emphasize with those who feel that the leaders of the church are saying that their marriages are of a lesser value. But in the end, aren’t they teaching an important true doctrine?

Marriage can be upgraded

I know of many faithful individuals who have struggled with this all their married lives. Not understanding or accepting the doctrine, they chose to marry civilly when they were younger. As they matured in the gospel, it became clear to them that they had missed out on something very important. You can’t attend church on a regular basis and not hear this doctrine taught.

Upgrading a marriage can be a difficult task. Elder Nelson taught that it requires a mighty change of heart and a permanent personal upgrade. I admire those individuals who continue faithful in church activity over the years as they strive to qualify for both this personal upgrade and the marital upgrade. That mighty change of heart can take a lifetime to accomplish.

Summary and conclusion

I have written about this doctrine previously. Marriage is an earthly ordinance. It must be attended to in this life. It is true that we perform vicarious marriage in the temple for those who have passed on without the opportunity to obtain it in this life. But for those who have the choice to marry in the temple and choose to not do so, what promise do they have from God?

They have no promise. It is hopeful and wishful thinking to believe that God will allow them to take some extra classes or pay a little fine in order to receive the promised blessing of exaltation. After all, that’s what a temple marriage is all about. Exaltation is what God promises to those who choose a temple marriage and remain true and faithful to their covenants unto the end.

13 Responses

  1. I am the blogger to which you are referring, who was upset by some aspects of Elder Nelson’s talk.You are correct when you say:”He did not share anything that we haven’t been taught in the church for as long as I can recall.” I have heard countless lessons and talks on temple marriage vs. the alternatives, but most of them are able to teach the doctrine in a tactful, uplifting way. I was not the only who was taken aback by some of the rhetoric that Elder Nelson used.You said:”But in the end, aren’t they teaching an important true doctrine?”Yes, they are. However, the way in which a message is delivered can often make more of an impact (for better or for worse) than the message itself. My objection to Elder Nelson’s talk was not the doctrine he was teaching, but some of the wording and analogies that were used to teach it.Let me be clear:Some commenters to that post on my blog understood why some of us felt offended by his words, but they felt that his talk was geared to members who live in places with lots of members (like UT), who nevertheless indiscriminately enter into non-temple marriages. If this was indeed his target audience, then I think his words made more sense. However, this was not made clear in his talk and therefore I took it to be geared towards all members, including those, like myself, who live in areas with extremely few members and often no opportunities for a temple marriage. I did not indiscriminately choose my husband and I did not marry outside of the temple just because I wanted to. It was a highly personal decision made between myself and the Lord, and I only entered into my marriage after much pondering and receiving confirmation that it was right for me, even though I and the Lord both know that my husband may never join the Church in this life. I felt that Elder Nelson’s choice of words “cheapened” the value of my marriage, even if it is only for time, as well as implying that no one could ever wisely enter into marriage outside of the temple.In regards to Celestial marriage, you say:”It requires making a wise choice in this life and can’t be put off until the next, as many apparently suppose.”It is true that all marriages should be “a wise choice.” However, to those of us who are not granted the opportunity to enter into temple marriage in this life, through no fault of our own, “a wise choice” may include a marriage for time only, in order to enjoy the blessings of companionship and family. And in such cases, I think that the Lord has made it possible for us to still attain those blessings if we are worthy, even if they are “put off until the next life.” If it were not so, we would not be doing temple work. That is also one of the reasons why I objected to his analogy with the obituary. Besides being generally discouraging for anyone who has recently lost a loved one, one of the fundamental doctrines of Mormonism is that death is not the end and that work can be done in this life for those who have already crossed into the next — and that includes people like my non-member husband.As far as Elder Bednar’s parable of the pickle, I am not familiar with it and therefore I need to make it clear that I’m not one of “the same people that were upset at Elder Bednar.”So I stand by my criticism, not of the doctrine of temple marriage, but of Elder Nelson’s choice of words to emphasize the importance of it. He may have been trying to reach a selected few in Utah who flippantly enter into marriage outside of the temple, but in doing so he (perhaps unintentionally) offended and discouraged some members, such as myself and those in similar situations, by his choice of words. And, because of his choice of words, I also stand by what I said in my blog about how I was glad that my husband didn’t hear his talk. It would have only added to the hurt of past encounters with such comments that make him feel as if I married a second-class citizen in the kingdom of God.

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  2. A couple of other thoughts. You said:”I admire those individuals who continue faithful in church activity over the years as they strive to qualify for both this personal upgrade and the marital upgrade. That mighty change of heart can take a lifetime to accomplish.”I appreciate your admiration, but I have to say that sometimes “a mighty change of heart” has nothing to do with it. I don’t know where you live in the world, but on my end of the globe, even a “mighty change of heart” is sometimes not enough to find you an RM temple-worthy mate. I think it’s wrong to imply that those who have chosen to marry a non-member, as opposed to remaining single all their lives, or even marrying a non-member despite living in a highly populated LDS area, have ALL done so because their hearts were closed off to the Lord. Sometimes, the Lord requires us to take a leap of faith and make sacrifices, which is how it was with my parents’ marriage and my own.”But for those who have the choice to marry in the temple and choose to not do so, what promise do they have from God?”I’ve stopped dwelling on all the opinions and comments on this matter that I’ve heard from various members over the years. I simply don’t know what the Lord has in store for me. I just want to make sure that I can honestly say, “Lord, I’ve done only what I honestly believe you told me to do when I asked.” I’m going to concentrate on that aspect and trust that I’ll get whatever I deserve, good or bad.

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  3. Faithful Dissident,I just spent the last few hours reading your blog. Yep, I read every post back to the time you started. Thank you for sharing. I think I have a better understanding of where you are coming from now. I had previously only read the one post on your reaction to Elder Nelson’s talk, along with a bunch of the comments.I think I owe you an apology. No, I am fairly certain I do and therefore, I apologize. I judged you and put you in with the same group of people to whom, as you point out, Elder Nelson’s talk was probably directed. That was wrong of me and I hope I did not cause you to feel worse than you already did after hearing Elder Nelson’s talk.I think there should be a part two to his conference talk which addresses those who find themselves in your position through no fault of their own. You know, I can even relate to BiV’s comment now where she called that part of his talk ‘harsh’ in referring to the obituary. That must really hurt for someone who wanted to marry in the temple and yet could find no one available in their part of the world.I find your attitude courageous as you expressed it in your second comment – that you had done everything you felt the Lord had told you when you had asked. I am discovering that what I once felt was a black and white issue is not so straightforward. There are a lot of gray areas simply because I do not know all circumstances.Isn’t it wonderful that there is one who does know circumstances and can judge our hearts and reward us accordingly? I have no clue, really as to to what it must be like to be a) a woman, b) an LDS woman, c) an LDS woman who is married to a non-LDS man. I have my challenges and you have yours. God bless you in your journey and may he bless you in your marriage with all the happiness you desire.By the way, once I read your blog, I found that your essays are quite thought-provoking and enjoyable to read. Thank you for sharing. I would like to add you to my list of blogs that I follow and read. Perhaps I will get to know some of the people who comment there and be enriched by additional points of view. Your essays do read like someone who is faithful but still has a few doubts and questions.

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  4. This is such a sensitive topic, largely because openly mentioning exceptions (valid though they are) generally opens the door for many people to assume they are an exception. I have seen this over and over again. I am as stereotypical Mormon as it gets in most obvious ways: BIC, seminary, mission, temple marriage to the only girl I’ve ever loved, six kids, various visible callings, etc. – yet even I cringed a bit at certain points in Elder Nelson’s talk. I didn’t do so because of any “doctrine” but rather because of how I knew it would come across to people like the faithful dissident. I respect what Elder Nelson taught, and I know how badly many members need to hear it phrased like that, but I also am aware of so many who feel the weight of an ideal they hear constantly but can’t live – who feel targeted and even judged by someone who doesn’t know them and their circumstances. Dissident, if you still are reading this, there is a degree of comfort to be found in the Proclamation to the World – of all places. The final sentence of the paragraph on spousal roles says, “Death, disability, and other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” I am certain, personally, that the type of situation you describe qualifies as an “other circumstance”.

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  5. Faithful Dissident, I agree with everything you have said here. My over-30s singles ward in SLC is practically overflowing with women who are dedicated to the gospel, sharp, attractive, etc., but simply can’t find anyone suitable to date–and that’s here in Mormon Mecca. It’s not just a problem outside of Utah (although I know it’s even harder elsewhere). I just can’t believe it is always preferable for someone to remain single for the rest of their lives rather than marrying a good non-LDS individual who respects their standards. As you say, ultimately it depends on the individual and the Lord.

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  6. Tim,I’m so glad that we are able to understand each other better. Thanks for stopping by my blog and taking the time to read all my entries. That means a lot and I’m happy when people take the time to do so, even if they don’t agree with me, because they are able to see better where I am coming from with my thoughts. Some Mormons may be scared off by the second half of my name, forgetting the “faithful” part, but I like to remind us all that we are members of a worlwide church that come from an array of backgrounds, cultures, experiences, and circumstances, and many of us do not fit the “stereotypical” Mormon as Papa D just stated. And even though I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it was like before, through blogging I’ve been able to connect to other members whose stories just blow me away. I feel a great deal of compassion and admiration for those who don’t fit the Mormon mold — some even much less so than myself — and it can make being an active member extremely challenging and difficult.I would be honoured to have you continue to stop by my blog, as I will do with yours. Different perspectives are always welcome, as that is how we learn.And yes, you are right, that it is wonderful that there is One who knows each of our hearts and circumstances, who will judge us accordingly. I believe that and it’s what sustains me through the tough times when it can feel like I have no place in my own church.Rivkah, thanks for letting me know what life is sometimes like in a singles ward, even in Mormon Mecca. :) It’s a good reminder that we are all unique individuals and even though we may be surrounded by eligible marriage partners with great qualities and potential, sometimes it’s simply not right. I’ve seen the results of some who rushed into temple marriage, feeling it was their duty to to do, and it sometimes led to immature couples bringing several children into the world, and sadly, sometimes ended in misery, bitterness, and divorce.

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  7. Faithful Dissident, thanks for your comments. I probably should have been a little more clear in saying that single women in their 30s and older in Utah are *not* surrounded by eligible marriage partners. In my ward for 31 to 45-year-olds, there are about 4 times as many women as men. When you start comparing things like level of education, career, social skills, etc., the ratios get even worse. I agree with your point, though, that even when the odds are good, that doesn’t mean someone can automatically find the right marriage partner in any given crowd.

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  8. Hi all, stumbled on here via some links on Mormanity's blog… this topic is of particular interest to me as well…We know that the Gospel is one of forgiveness and a chance to repent and that the Lord will remember our sins no more….So what about an individual who was born in the church, let go of the Iron Rod around 18ish, lived the prodigal son's life of worldliness and sin, married a non-memeber during that time and then over the years repented, (sincerely) and returned to full activity, but the spouse is not in the least interested and in many respects antagonistic about the church.I know none of us mortals have this answer but I have wondered can you truly repent and be forgiven but still forfeit some of the promised blessings? Or by being forgiven will ALL of the promised blessings eventually be bestowed upon that person?You know like King David, it seems that he may have obtained forgiveness but I believe the D&C states he lost his exaltationthose are the ones I think about a lot.

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  9. d360, God is both just and merciful. We can forfeit blessings as a natural consequence of our actions (e.g., the children of the individual you mention might be less likely to be active in the Church as a result of the individual’s marriage). However, the individual can still achieve exaltation if they live worthily. King David lost his exaltation because of the murder of Uriah. Whatever the person you refer to did during their time away from the Church, it couldn’t have remotely compared to the seriousness of David’s sin.

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  10. That is a very accurate statement about the individual’s children, what of them? I guess that would be a situation where it was no fault of their own that they weren’t born into a unified (religiously speaking) household, they would still need a full opportunity to hear the Gospel…. which may or may not come in this life I guess.Either way, I know it ways heavily on this personThank you for the response

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  11. I am 30 and chances are I will never marry. But this talk did not offend or upset me because I know that God is merciful and just.All I can do is my best and have faith that the brethren are inspired. I can understand why people ow marry outside the church. I grew up in Utah but now live in another country. There are few members of the church here. But I will not compromise, I refuse to trade the chance of a temple marriage for anything else.

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  12. Well, I was one of the commenters at the By Common Consent Conference thread who had a negative reaction to the analogy. But that bears some explaining I suppose.I didn’t have any objections to the doctrine underlying Elder Nelson’s shopping analogy. Of course we believe eternal marriage is superior to other forms of marriage. Otherwise we wouldn’t promote it.My objection was the manner in which this teaching was delivered.A person I know who investigated the LDS Church actually warmed up quite a bit to Mormonism until she asked the missionaries why she had to be baptized – since she had already been baptized Baptist. The reply from the missionary:”You didn’t get baptized, you went swimming.’It was an unfortunate remark. She turned cold to the LDS message, started researching anti-Mormon literature and became a rather active counter-cult ministry person before cooling off and rejecting the problems she saw in anti-Mormonism. But she still never joined the LDS faith.I wonder if her story would have been different if the missionary had helped her make the bridge from her existing faith and beliefs to those of the Restored Gospel. Perhaps, perhaps not.After thinking about this for a while, I think Elder Nelson’s analogy is fine when you are addressing “insiders” or those already faithful and in agreement with the message. But to outsiders, it comes off very insensitive.It also fails to account for the good that is already present in non-temple marriages. It’s simply not an appropriate message to compare my non-Mormon grandparents wedding (they’ve been faithfully married over 60 years) to a cheap bargain item at Wal Mart.Yes, I’m aware their marriage cannot last. I’m aware that eternal marriage is more enduring and better. But focusing on the negativity of what they have is not the way to win them over.How many times have you wished that anti-Mormon Evangelicals would quit trying to tell us why Mormonism sucks, and instead focus on what makes their own religion so special?Now, that said, my wife pointed out to me that the analogy was not the main focus of the talk and Elder Nelson did not focus on it unduly.But I worry that other Church members will decide to use it themselves, and that they will use it with far less tact than Elder Nelson did.There are enough truly bad things in the world, that I don’t think our time is best spent casting stones at things that are essentially good – just not as good a WE would like.

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  13. D360,I agree with Rivkah that God is both just and merciful. When we truly repent for our sins, God says that he “forgets” them. I’m not pretending to be speaking on behalf of the Lord, this is just my personal thought and opinion, but I think that if God can forgive and even forget your past sins for which you have repented, he will not allow those past sins to undermine the potential that you have in your life now. You may have a longer road to go, but I would hope that He would offer the same potential to attain blessings as any one of us, as long as we are faithful and do our best to “endure to the end.” Do all you can do be worthy, for you are the only one you have any control over, and leave the rest up to the Lord.Seth,Wow, that “swimming” comment is just sad. I know that the Elders are young and usually mean well, but sometimes such lapses in judgment can do irrepairable damage. That was my thought after Elder Nelson’s talk. Those of us who are “seasoned veterans” of Mormonism will get over the shock and move on in the Gospel, but to an investigator (particularly one who is living common-law, is gay, or has recently lost a spouse), there wasn’t a whole lot to go on that would want to make that person investigate further.

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