Marriage has been a moral and political subject for a very long time, while the practice goes back to ancient history. Discussions of who and how many can join together are found all over the place. The current hot topic asks the question if Mormon marriages are supposed to be equal or patriarchal authoritative. What hasn’t been talked about much is the equally growing number of marriage dissolution. Couples have been divorcing at greater numbers each year. This isn’t just the case outside the LDS Church, but within the Mormon community. Worse yet is an ever increasing rate of Temple Marriage sealings getting dissolved. The trend has become serious enough that LDS President made mention in the April 2011 General Conference of his concerns:
Now, brethren, I turn to another subject about which I feel impressed to address you. In the three years since I was sustained as President of the Church, I believe the saddest and most discouraging responsibility I have each week is the handling of cancellations of sealings. Each one was preceded by a joyous marriage in the house of the Lord, where a loving couple was beginning a new life together and looking forward to spending the rest of eternity with each other. And then months and years go by, and for one reason or another, love dies. It may be the result of financial problems, lack of communication, uncontrolled tempers, interference from in-laws, entanglement in sin. There are any number of reasons. In most cases divorce does not have to be the outcome.
The vast majority of requests for cancellations of sealings come from women who tried desperately to make a go of the marriage but who, in the final analysis, could not overcome the problems.
The high profile re-marriage of Marie Osmond to her first husband Stephen Craig is a small reminder of how fragile relationships seem to be for modern couples. Her choice will be commented on a bit later. Hopefully the second time around will last for the Eternal promise made in the LDS Temple vows. Why it didn’t work out the first time is a personal issue, but the failure is far from typical for too many. Multiple divorces and marriages are no longer associated mostly with the rich and high profile entertainers. The opinion of the Lord on this matter is not hard to find even if forgotten by the Saints. He would not be pleased.
Since the beginning of Creation (see Genesis 2) the union of man and woman has been sanctioned by God at the least for the establishment of the human population. In the Garden of Eden the man Adam was put into a deep sleep. When he woke up, a woman had been formed from his ribs to be a companion. From that time forward, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
This relationship is not a temporary situation, but meant to be an extension of the Church. It is possible to describe the family institution that marriage forms as a sub-organization, much like a Ward is to a Stake. Ephesians 5: 22–32, explains that how a couple treats each other is similar to how Christ does the Church. Hopefully one day the marriage, like the Church, will be sanctified and cleansed to be presented spotless. There is more than feelings involved, but real work and progress must be employed to achieve the glorious end. The Epistle ends with a type of warning that these facts about keeping the relationship strong and improving it in the same way as Christ the Church is a mystery. Often the use of “mystery” signifies an Eternal concept that few mortals can really understand.
For Latter-day Saints, marriage as a mystery is directly connected to Temple Covenants. Couples unite for an Eternity if they are to be Exalted, as D&C 131: 1–4 succinctly explains:
1In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this border of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
3And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
4He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
Of course, its more than an implication that woman must also be married to reach the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom. Together a man and a woman are, as 1 Peter 3:7 says, “heirs together of the grace of life.” The Atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible that every individual can be Saved, but Exaltation cannot be done alone.
Standing in the way of the Plan of Happiness for far too many is either lack of marriage, or worse Divorce. For a couple to separate is not just an undesirable choice, but very nearly a sin. What the Lord thinks of Divorce is unequivocal, although there is a sliver of leeway. Jesus indicated that the Mosaic Law is comparatively lenient, but even that had rules and regulations far more strict than current no fault divorce. To be more truthful, those rules set against others and make divorce a contradictory concept. Those contradictions are nearly as lacking for Jesus’ injunctions as his undeniable disdain for the practice of couples disuniting.
The majority of views on Divorce can be found in Deuteronomy 22, where it is taught that a woman must be a virgin at marriage or they can be stoned to death. That is, unless the woman lose her virginity because of rape and then not held accountable. If a man finds fault with the woman, specifically bringing the charge of losing her virginity before his marriage, and the accusation is found false, the man has to remain married to her. He will pay some money, “and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.” A possible interpretation is that making the accusation on false pretenses nullifies the Deuteronomy 24:1–4 allowance. Then again, perhaps the statement that “because he hath found some uncleanness in her” is really a shortening of the specifics mentioned previously. What makes Marie Osmond’s remarriage to her first husband Stephen Craig interesting is that the Mosaic Law completely rejects this as an abomination. Breaking the marriage is considered final.
There is no question that Jesus didn’t even have the “if the latter husband hate her” clause to excuse the marriage dissolution. For the Savior, according to Matthew 19:3–11 among others, the only reason to divorce is fornication issues. It is mostly speculation, but the Pharisees might have asked him the question about reasons for divorce as a political, rather than theological, attack. Perhaps they already knew lenient divorce laws was taking a loose interpretation of instructions on the matter. He reiterated what the Scriptures have to say and as usual pointed out a deeper doctrinal context. We learn in Mark 10:11–12 that the prohibition on divorce goes equally for the man and woman, with remarriage considered adultery.
Instructions on the matter were hard enough that the Apostles asked him to explain the teaching. They seemed a bit dumbfounded that Jesus would be harsh when it came to divorce. His answer to them and others remained, “they twain shall be one flesh,” and, “what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” The later Epistle of 1 Corinthians 7 contains the writer’s opinions on remaining married to unbelievers or those who have lost faith. Among the advice remains as a commandment of the Lord that a man and woman should not get a divorce. If they do then they should remain separated unless rejoining with the previous spouse. It might even be implied, according to the reading of Matthew 19: 10–12, that if you aren’t capable of remaining married then that person shouldn’t get married; becoming a perpetual virgin.
Modern Scriptures might not touch on divorce much, but they are still just as specific on its prohibition. when Jesus taught in the New World, he restated the famous comments made to the pharisees and Apostles. There are some changes in 3 Nephi 12: 31–32 in wording:
31It hath been written, that whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.
32Verily, verily, I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause ofbfornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whoso shall marry her who is divorced committeth adultery.
The man who divorces is responsible for making the woman an adulterer, most likely because the man who would marry her becomes an adulterer. Instructions for Priesthood leaders with divorce matters can be found in D&C 42:74–75 as part of a larger subject on stewardship. This time it seems assumed that the reason for divorce is fornication on the part of the woman. Yet it says, “if ye shall find that any persons have left their companions for the sake of aadultery, and they themselves are the offenders, and their companions are living, they shall be bcast out from among you.” Where the Mosaic Law states lying that the woman you marry was not a virgin has a monetary penalty with permanent marriage and fornication stoning, the modern punishment is ex-communication. There is no large difference of divorce as offensive.
No matter the reasons given for couples to separate with a divorce, the Scriptures are clear that it is considered a sinful action. Only fornication and unfaithfulness are permissible for the couple to split. Even then, once the two are no longer legally and spiritually united then both must stay that way with the acceptance of getting back together. What if the man or woman fall out of love? What if one is physically or emotionally abusive? What if . . . all kinds of things? I suppose excuses or exceptions can be made as has always been done by the unrepentant. The truth is that the Scriptures name one, and only one, reason for divorce; fornication with another. Stretching that might even include pornography, but no other reason can be found for breaking up what the Lord has put together. We as a community need to do more to repent of the easy way out and work harder to love each other as husbands and wives.