Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Celestial Marriage

Last night for our O.C. Mormon Studies Group, I lead a discussion on celestial marriage. Here is the rundown.

1. What celestial marriage is as opposed to temple marriage, eternal marriage, and....patriarchal order.

Some interesting discussion about the word patriarchy. Armand thinks the term comes from a 19th century obsession with patriarchal clans - ergo all these Mormons sealing themselves as children to J.S and B.Y. Armand thinks that the word needs to be dropped in favor of something less offensive, like family order. Amy commented however, that changing a word is nice but that there are things in the temple and in the proc that need to be changed as well to remove the idea and practice of patriarchy in our church.

2. Purpose of marriage:

Armand thought the purpose of celestial marriage was to give us training as gods in embryo. Others (john R.) gave more sociological ideas about the purpose of marriage. I pointed out the one scripture I could find : "it is not good for man to be alone" in genesis.

3. Questioning some underlying assumptions about marriage: Does marriage really mitigate the essential "aloneness" of our life journeys?

I'm very compelled by Elizabeth Cady Stanton's speech, The Solitude of Self, in which she argues the essential isolation of our souls and ourselves in order to promote the idea that, given this isolation, we cannot handicap any human from enjoying absolute equal rights.

Here is an excerpt I read from Cady Stanton. I find her writing bleak and beautiful.

To appreciate the importance of fitting every human soul for independent action, think for a moment of the immeasurable solitude of self.... We come into the world alone, unlike all who have gone before us, we leave it alone, under circumstances peculiar to ourselves. In youth our most bitter disappointments, our brightest hopes and ambitions, are known only to ourselves. Even our friendship and love we never fully share with another; there is something of every passion, in every situation, we conceal. . . . .

We ask no sympathy from others in the anxiety and agony of a broken friendship or shattered love. When death sunders our nearest ties, alone we sit in the shadow of our affliction. Alike amid the greatest triumphs and darkest tragedies of life, we walk alone. On the divine heights of human attainment, eulogized and worshipped as a hero or saint, we stand alone. In ignorance, poverty and vice, as a pauper or criminal, alone we starve or steal; alone we suffer the sneers and rebuffs of our fellows; alone we are hunted and hounded through dark courts and alleys, in by-ways and high-ways; alone we stand in the judgment seat; alone in the prison cell we lament our crimes and misfortunes; alone we expiate them on the gallows. In hours like these we realize the awful solitude of individual life, its pains, its penalties, its responsibilities, hours in which the youngest and most helpless are thrown on their own resources for guidance and consolation. Seeing, then, that life must ever be a march and a battle that each soldier must be equipped for his own protection, it is the height of cruelty to rob the individual of a single natural right.

Whatever the theories may be of woman’s dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life, he cannot bear her burdens. Alone she goes to the gates of death to give life to every man that is born into the world; no one can share her fears, no one can mitigate her pangs; and if her sorrow is greater than she can bear, alone she passes beyond the gates into the vast unknown.


From the mountain-tops of Judea long ago, a heavenly voice bade his disciples, “Bear ye one another’s burdens”; but humanity has not yet risen to that point of self-sacrifice; and if ever so willing, how few the burdens are that one soul can bear for another! . . .


So it ever must be in the conflicting scenes of life, in the long, weary march, each one walks alone. We may have many friends, love, kindness, sympathy and charity, to smooth our pathway in everyday life, but in the tragedies and triumphs of human experience, each mortal stands alone.

There were some strong reactions against Stanton's idea about the essential isolation of every soul. John, Amy, and Jessie commented that this grew out of a 19th century Emersonian preoccupation with individuality. Some thought that it was inaccurate to say that we are alone in birth and death and all the great events in between. I agree that we may not be physically alone, but I do think it's true that no one will ever truly understand my feelings, my joy, my suffering. No one knows all that goes through my mind. I think I have a good relationship with Mike, but I'd be surprised if I even tell him 1% of what I think about in a given day.

Ultimately, the concensus was that marriage may not totally take away our isolation, but it does give us constant opportunities to reach out to other to serve and try to share those burdens.

4. Questioning another underlying assumption about marriage: why does it have to be between a man and a woman? Is there a chance that our actively homosexual brothers and sisters will one day be welcomed in the church? (We didn't have time to discuss this one.)

5. Some history: the idea of celestial marriage was inescapably tied to plural marriage in the early days of the church. In fact, the term celestial marriage was synomous with plural marriage. D&C 132 is an example of how these ideas are inextricably bound together.

The coming forth of D&C 132 (from Mormon Enigma): Joseph had been practicing plural marriage and been trying to convince Emma to accept it. She resisted and resisted, but finally gave in when he told her that her salvation was in jeopardy. So she picks some women to give to him (little did she know that they were already married to him). But right after the ceremony she became more violently opposed to polygamy than ever. Joseph needs her support so Hyrum suggests that he come up with a revelation to convince her. So Joseph writes DC 132, but when this is delivered to her, Emma is incensed and the revelation is burned, maybe by Emma, maybe by Joseph, maybe together - but not before some copies had been made. There are various accounts of this burning, but the editorial comment by the historians is that if Emma burned this revelation, she did so with the approval of Joseph.

(Armand thinks that if J.S had lived, there would have been a high chance that he might have given up on polygamy. He was a great experimenter and tried (and failed) at all sorts of things, so it's very possible he could have realized it wasn't working. For example, the United Order was dead in the water by the time the Saints got to Nauvoo.)

I think this story neatly illustrates that the last word on marriage has not been written in our church. Even Joseph himself seems to have not been so sure about DC 132. So I'm hopeful that how our church thinks and talks about marriage may evolve to one day be more inclusive and egalitarian.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Tanya Sue said...

Thanks for posting your discussion note. I was sorry to miss it in person. It is very thought provoking.

1/26/2007 6:28 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Sorry you couldn't make it!

1/26/2007 3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just because you are married it doesn't mean there is no lonliness. In fact, I feel the times I am alone are worse because me attitude not only affects me negativly but also my spouse and children. I wish that I learned growing up that marriage and family are not always answers in life. Yes it is nice to have that person(s) to be with but you soon realize that no one can be blamed for your lonliness or unhappiness but yourself.

1/27/2007 11:46 AM  
Anonymous jim said...

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are exhaulted beings and all had multiple wives. Maroni is an exhaulted being, and had only one wife. It is clear that polygomy has no bearing on exhaultation.

1/30/2007 10:49 AM  
Anonymous Johnna Cornett said...

I agree that polygamy is not a requirement for exaltation, but where does it say Moroni (Maroni?) married at all?

2/04/2007 10:05 PM  

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