I was married in the Las Vegas temple in April 2002. According to LDS belief, since I had been sealed in the temple then I was essentially set for life spiritually. All I had to do from that point forward was to attend church, obey the leaders, and be a generally good person until I died. I literally had to do nothing else to enter God’s presence. This of course is pretty trivial and mentally feels nice because it is so easy to accomplish. I spent many years in this mindset until I realized that being sealed means something drastically different to God.
In the scriptures, with the exception of D&C 132 which has highly dubious origins, there is not a single reference to being sealed together in marriage as the LDS church understands it. I also am excluding D&C 131 because the phrase, “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” is not in the original source document and was added some time later. Therefore, the order of the priesthood that D&C 131 is referring to is quite unlikely to do with marriage in any form. It is very interesting that we have no scriptures to support this concept considering it is, according to LDS doctrine, the most important ordinance available and is the crowning achievement of anyone’s spiritual journey. I can understand it being removed from the Bible, however you would certainly expect it to be in the Book of Mormon since it contains the fulness of the gospel. If we look at the Book of Mormon though, we can see what being sealed actually means.
King Benjamin, while giving his last speech to his people remarked in Mosiah 5:15:
Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life.Mosiah 5:15
That scripture is pretty clear that when we are sealed to God then we become his people and gain the many blessings which he has to offer us. We can contrast this with an amazing sermon Alma and Amulek gave the Zoramites in Alma 34:35.
For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.Alma 34:35
Thus, it seems according to the scriptures that we ultimately have the option of being sealed to God or sealed to Satan. I frankly don’t think this means married in the sense that the Mormon church believes today. It seems to imply a sense of ownership. Either God owns you or Satan does. There is no middle ground. We ultimately can use this life to decide which King we want to obey.
If, however, the LDS church is correct in their understanding of sealings then I seriously struggle to understand how being sealed to a flawed person like myself works. Would it not be like being tied to the world’s strongest person and then you both jump off a cliff together? Instead of being tied to a person, I want to be tied to the eternal God of the universe. That is the only sure foundation that we can rely on.
Again, this concept of being sealed to God or Satan is continuous throughout the scriptures. There is no deviation from it. There is not a single reference in the scriptures, to sealing, that implies a marriage between a man and a woman let alone a man and multiple women. Being sealed is being tied to God and most certainly not a spouse.
Law of Adoption
The origins of what we would call temple sealings are murky at best. We have a variety of Nauvoo era records and many noncontemporary accounts that suggest it was a secret doctrine given only to a few at first. The root of this concept seems to be the conflation of two different concepts that have merged somewhat over time. Namely, the idea of being sealed unto eternal life and the idea of being sealed into an individual’s eternal kingdom. There is evidence in the early church that both concepts were practiced and in many cases the word “seal” was used to describe both.
Historically, there are conflicting records however it seems that Joseph didn’t want to extend the temple sealings to William and Jane Law. Some records say Joseph wanted to be sealed to Jane and Jane refused. Other records say Joseph refused William to be sealed to his wife Jane. However, it is certainly clear that William Law became disaffected and helped publish the Nauvoo Expositor which listed as a chief complaint the idea of Joseph sealing individuals to eternal life with a promise that they can commit almost any sin and still be acceptable to God.
It does seem though that the LDS understanding of sealing is firmly rooted in what was called at the time the Law of Adoption. An early reference to this is found in an 1837 pamphlet by Parley P. Pratt called, “A Voice of Warning” where Pratt mentions:
Aliens might become citizens of the kingdom of God through the process of adoption which could be accomplished through baptism, preceded by faith and repentance and accompanied by the Holy Ghost.Parley P. Pratt – “A Voice of Warning”
Thus, we can see that a very early reference indicates that we can be adopted into the Kingdom of God by essentially complying with the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. This is a very scripturally based idea and is fully in line with numerous teachings from prophets. Essentially, we come into this world and are in the middle of a “war” so to speak. We must align ourselves with one of the two churches that Nephi speaks of in 1 Nephi 14. Aligning ourselves with the church is the process of adoption that Elder Pratt is speaking about.
As mentioned earlier, there are incomplete records indicating specifically what was happening in the Nauvoo era of the church. However, one of the records we do have is that on October 16, 1843, Dr. John M. Bernhisel was sealed to his sisters, aunts, cousins, and a few friends. A short while later, when Joseph was killed, then John Bernhisel was sealed to Joseph Smith based on a version of the Law of Adoption that Brigham Young has altered. This seems to be the beginning of the idea that an individual needed to be sealed to a high official in the church in order to secure their salvation. Being sealed to a person who wasn’t a member of the church was seen as too risky since they might not accept the Gospel. Thus, the only surety was to be sealed to Joseph, Brigham, or one of the twelve apostles.
Being sealed to someone also ensured that the individual was a part of the persons eternal kingdom. This of course led to people jockeying to try and essentially get a higher station in their sealing which, according to them, would lead to a better place in heaven. Apostle George A. Smith even admitted in a February 1847 account that he and the other apostles “lextioneered” in order to grow their respective kingdoms or families as they called it.
These families operated in a clear hierarchy where the children were to temporally benefit their “father” and in return the “father” would spiritually benefit the children. John D. Lee, who was adopted by Brigham Young wrote in his journal:
I was adopted by Brigham Young, and was to seek his temporal interests here, and in return he was to seek my spiritual salvation, I being an heir of his family, and was to share his blessings in common with his other heirs.Mormonism Unveiled, pg 197
During the short time in early 1846 where the Nauvoo temple was in use, Brigham Young was sealed to 38 men. After the move westward when a temple was unavailable then a waiting list for the apostles began to develop so that people could maintain their place in an individual’s eternal kingdom. It is recorded that during the 5-year period between 1849 and 1854 a waiting list for adoption by Brigham Young increased by 175 names. This list continued to build until 1855 when the Endowment house was opened, and ordinances could be performed again. In the church at the time, if you could be adopted by Brigham Young then you were seen as favored above others.
Eventually the practice of adoption became so bitter that it is recorded:
In a few cases it led to jealousy and conflict between sons for their adoptive father’s attentions, and because it had in some other cases caused a scramble for status between potential sons seeking adoption by higher-ranking elders, and between elders by accumulating large numbers of adoptive sons.Adoption Library
Brigham Young even recognized the problems with the Law of Adoption and remarked
Were I to say to the elders you now have the liberty to build up your kingdoms, one half of them would lie, swear, steal and fight like the very devil to get men and women sealed to them. They would even try to pass right by me and go to Joseph.Brigham Young
In the early 1880’s there was growing dissatisfaction concerning the Law of Adoption and people were intentionally not entering into it since their was so much emotional baggage attached to it. One account from the time indicated:
I don’t believe there is a man on earth that thoroughly understands the principle. If there is I have never heard it taught so that I could understand it. I believe it is permitted more to satisfy the minds of the people for the present until the lord reveals more fully the principle.Edward Bunker
Even President Wilford Woodruff was growing dissatisfied with the idea and therefore in the April 1894 general conference he announced:
I have not felt satisfied, neither did President Taylor, neither has any man since the Prophet Joseph who has attended to the ordinance of adoption in the temples of our God. We have felt that there was more to be revealed upon this subject than we had received … Let every man be adopted to his father … That is the will of God to this people … We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. … When you get to the end, let the last man be adopted to Joseph Smith, who stands at the head of the dispensation. This is the will of the Lord to this people.Wilford Woodruff
After making this change members began to question how they could be sealed to individuals who did not have the priesthood such as non-member deceased parents. Therefore, the temple ordinances were updated to also include ordaining men to the Melchizedek priesthood through proxy ordination. This had never been done before and was solely a result of the change to be sealed to parents instead of living individuals.
This change also led to the founding of the Genealogical Society of Utah in 1894 which eventually changed to be known as The Family History Department that we know today. This group was founded for the sole purpose of collecting records and making them available for individuals to research their genealogies. It was revolutionary at the time and assisted numerous people. Today we are blessed to be able to do extensive research using computer technology however that certainly wasn’t always the case.
The concept of eternal families, that we know and love today, is a direct result of this proclamation by President Woodruff. Prior to this there was no concept of eternal families and certainly the church wasn’t teaching “families are forever” like they do today. Since the concept of eternal families is so deeply ingrained throughout Mormon doctrine it seems hard to imagine that it was introduced almost 50 years after the death of Joseph Smith.
Today it is a very comforting idea that if your married in an LDS temple then you will retain your family in the next life. I can see why so many people hold that idea so dear to them. However, it is very important to realize that there is not a single scripture to support that claim. Scripturally there is only one type of sealing and that is either being sealed to God or Satan and being a member of their respective kingdoms. You can be married in the LDS temple to the most amazing person ever, however how does that change your status with God. Will they be able to drag you to heaven if you don’t qualify to be there? Can God tolerate wickedness if someone politely asks him to?
The LDS sealing concept that we know today is a result of a small change here and there until we have something drastically different. For instance, being sealed to God to ensure exaltation was changed to being sealed to a prophet like Joseph to be part of his eternal kingdom. Then it was changed to being sealed to any leader as part of a hierarchy of kingdoms. Finally, the concept was changed to be sealed together in eternal families and building a chain back to Adam. Today we think it was always the way it is however that is not true.
I don’t know if there will be families in the next life or what it will look like. I do honestly struggle to think of the purpose of families in the eternities. However, I know that we all have to stand individually before God and be accountable for our own actions. Everyone will have to qualify to be in God’s eternal presence themselves. There is no chain strong enough to weld you to someone if you are not worthy to be where they are. Since God is no respecter of persons then we can decide today whether we want to be sealed to God or sealed to Satan. We have two options, and it is entirely our choice.