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Why doesn't the Church of Jesus Christ let non-member family into temples to witness a marriage?

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

How come members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don't let others into their temple to witness a wedding? Such as a family member who isn’t a member of the Church? Isn't that exclusionary and anti-family?

One of the first answers that comes to mymind is that a “temple wedding” is not a typical wedding. It is actually a Priesthood ordinance where families are sealed together forever.

What Happens During a Temple Sealing?

The temple sealing: short and eternal.

Temple weddings are more accurately called temple sealings, since the prophet Elijah committed the sealing keys to Joseph Smith on April 3, 1836 (see Doctrine and Covenants 110:11-16). Because those priesthood keys were restored to the earth, our families can be sealed together for eternity.

The sealing ordinance itself is short. The couple kneels at an altar in a special sealing room. The words of the ordinance, like the sacrament prayer, are already written: the sealer (the temple worker who performs the sealing) asks the couple if they take each other as husband and wife. Then he seals them to one another and pronounces blessings upon them. He may also add a few brief words of counsel.

The ceremony may not last very long, but the sealing can last for eternity.

In the temple sealing ceremony, two things are accomplished. The first is what is called an eternal “sealing” and it is a priesthood ordinance, like the sacrament is an ordinance. Kneeling at an alter together in the temple, the man and woman listen as a priesthood ordinance prayer is said, the same prayer for anyone being sealed. We believe records are being kept of this sacred ordinance event both in heaven and on earth. Is it nowhere near like a typical wedding ceremony you see in most churches or even in backyards, government centers, or even in a drive through fast Las Vegas wedding chapel.

My wife and I chose to be sealed (and thus also married) in the Oakland Temple of the Lord. (circa 1980). It wasn't even a question of whether to have 20-25 people there, or have hundreds at a traditional wedding ceremony somewhere else outside the temple. We wanted the temple. We had a reception the next day and met hundreds of friends, plenty of cake, drink and food. Dressed in a white tuxedo. The temple was an experience where so many spiritual feelings were felt, because it is so overwhelmingly sacred. Tears flowed pretty much the whole time. At my reception, it was mostly an experience of shaking hands of friends and lots of smiling and good food and music. In the temple, there was no music, no food, no talking, just a very quiet and sacred atmosphere. So different really.

Being sealed in a temple is a much different event and really is not comparable. It is less about a government sanctioned unity and more about an eternal family, a bond that extends beyond this lifetime. It is a small and sacred event with no pomp or circumstance. No music. Just words said by one in authority to do so, the Priesthood holder with an office called Sealer, who performs this ordinance as one who is authorized directly by the living Prophet to perform such ceremonies. After the ceremony and ordinance is completed, then rings are exchanged, but it is noted that this is not part of the temple ceremony priesthood ordinance.

Yes, but still I couldn’t go into a family members wedding in the temple. I felt excluded. I was embarrassed that I could not go in while everybody else who were members of the church got to go inside.

There are so many activities and organizations that have requirements for entry, no matter the family relationships. One activity that is particularly challenging for members of the church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints are situations or events where everybody in attendance is drinking alcohol as a default, such as at a wedding or reception. I personally remember attending a wedding reception of a friend from another church, and they had all kinds of champagne, wine, liquor, alcohols of every kind, and yet there was no water or soda of any kind even though we did not drink liquor as part of our belief system. It was as if they assumed that everybody in attendance would be drinking alcohol, which they did assume. So I do understand the feeling of being left out and in the awkward situation where there was a lack of communication. We had a dinner on our table but nothing we could drink. We asked, and someone had to go to the venue host and fetch some water to bring to our table. It was somewhat of a spectacle and we were a little embarrassed by it. Embarrassed that the host wasn't thoughtful in the first place and created an awkward situation. Not embarrassed because of our faith.

Other activities or organizations such as sports teams, teams members have to first try out and be chosen, or they don't get on the team. Why would anyone assume that entering a temple is something that is open to any person anywhere at any time? It is a closed building, but it is open to anyone who wants to enter… as long as they first decide they want to and are willing to meet the requirements, make the covenants to do so. Much like joining any team, club, organization, college, or company or even a government agency, requires prerequisites and qualifications to first be met before entry or acceptance, these prerequisites almost never involve family nepotism. Family members of say, the FBI or CIA, or some other high-level military government agency are not allowed to enter their work premises if they don’t first already belong to the agency. If your wife is the Secretary of State for instance, that does not allow you as her spouse to enter with her into the White House oval office to talk to the president of the US. You will be stopped at the first security checkpoint with no exceptions. Society doesn’t seem to have a problem with this concept as a general rule, but some have a problem if a particular religion does it, such as there being a qualification for entry into a holy sacred temple where eternal covenants are made with God in various Priesthood Ordinances… where an atmosphere of oneness and unity exists inside, and where entry is limited to members of the church who have decided and have been interviewed by their bishop and a stake president to confirm that they agree in advance with the doctrines of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and self-affirm their faithfulness in those things such as chastity, tithing, keeping all commandments of Christ, belief in the doctrines, support of prophets, etc.. It's a very minimal requirement when you think about it.

  • It doesn't cost any money.

  • It didn't take years of attending college to earn a degree.

  • It didn't take years of practice at a sport or skill to earn a special qualification.

All it takes is a willing heart and commitment to one’s faith, and officially self-affirming that in a private interview with their local church leader.

It really shouldn't be criticized if a non-member family member can't go inside to witness a sacred priesthood ordinance event with a small group, usually no more than 20 people, an invitation only event for family or friends who also hold temple recommends, and where everybody sitting in that room has a unity in the faith in the doctrines and in the teachings of the church. This is the requirement: unity in the faith as a prerequisite.

I believe in hindsight, that it could/should be explained better to those who are not members of the faith, before they come to a temple, that only members of the church with temple recommends are allowed entrance into the temple. Then they can decide if they still want to come to the temple, but knowing that they won’t be going inside for that priesthood ordinance. This could go a long way towards avoiding misunderstandings and judgment by others not of our faith that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is somehow anti-family, because it's not about that. That idea could not be farther from the truth, since most people in the world accept that in large part, strong families exist in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for good reasons. Temple sealings (and the associated government marriage certificate) are lasting longer than nearly all other marriages in the world by way of factual statistics.

9% of Latter-day Saints identify as divorced.

In other churches it is much higher:

Catholics (15%),

Buddhists (16%),

Evangelical Protestants (17%),

Historically Black Protestants (30%),

Jehovah’s Witnesses (15%),

Jews (12%),

Mainline Protestants (15%),

Muslims (15%),

Orthodox Christians (13%),

and Unaffiliated (17%).

Latter-day Saints are also more likely to get married than members of other religious groups in the United States, and less likely to divorce. With more marriage you would think there would be more divorce, but this is not the case among Latter-day Saints.

Church members also have significantly larger families.

You would think that this would add to the stress of a marriage and family, but it actually has the opposite effect which is to create additional purpose to solve problems and help to nurture children as they grow up. Fathers and Mothers working as a team to guide a large family.

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