Letting the dead bury their dead

This is a guest post by IDIAT, a M* commenter.

January’s Ensign has two articles – one on the grieving and mourning process, the other introducing us to President Joseph Fielding Smith. I had already looked over JFS’s time line in the priesthood manual. Let me summarize some milestones in his life, drawing from the manual, Ensign article and Family Search.

Born 7/19//1876. Marries Louie Emily Shurtliff 04/26/1898. They have two children, then she dies during her third pregnancy 03/30/1908. (Married about 10 years). Marries Ethel Georgina Reynolds on 11/02/1908. They have 7 more children and she dies 08/26/1937 after a four year illness. (Married second time about 29 years). Marries Jessie Ella Evans 04/12/1938, no children born of this marriage, and she dies 08/13/1971. (Married about 33 years). JFS was sealed to all three wives.

A couple of things stand out. First, in both his second and third marriages, he re-married about 7 months after the death of deceased wife. I think by most people’s standards, that’s pretty quick. The first remarriage he had two children, ages 6 and 2. Our sympathies would be with a young father aged 32 (or mother for that matter) who needed help raising children. Still, JFS was the first son of a polygamous father who ultimately had many children. In fact, JFS wasn’t about the same age as his father’s last wives. Surely, with all that extended family around, someone could have stepped in and helped raise the children. Sister Reynolds was only 19 when she married JFS. Perhaps he already knew Sister Reynolds, so that they skipped through much of the courtship stuff. Anyway, when Sister Reynolds dies at age 48, their youngest of 7 children is 16.

The same pattern is repeated when the second wife dies. Sister Evans was 36, and JFS was 62. Again, JFS manages to meet, court and marry Sister Evans about 7 months after second wife’s death. By the account in the Ensign article written by his grandson, they were very different, but managed to make their marriage work. No children were born of the third marriage. The priesthood manual says Sister Reynolds died “after a four year illness.” Perhaps they were implying that JFS had 4 years to grieve so that by the time Sister Reynolds actually passed away, he was mostly through the grieving process and ready to move on quickly.

In “Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith,” compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith (1976 Deseret Book Co.) pp. 119 – 120, the Prophet was asked: Do the Mormons believe in having more wives than one? He answered: No, not at the same time But they believe that if their companion dies, they have the right to marry again. But we do disapprove of the custom, which has gained in the world, and has been practiced among us, to our great mortification, in marrying in five or six weeks, or even in two or three months, after the death of their companion. We believe that due respect ought to be had to the memory of the dead, and the feelings of both friends and children.” But, in a footnote in the text, we read:

“Notwithstanding this remark about due respect for both the living and the dead, the Prophet varied from this view in counseling his brother Hyrum. Hyrum Smith’s wife Jerusha, died in October, 1837, leaving an infant daughter and a large family of small children. The Prophet told his brother Hyrum that it was the will of the Lord that he should marry without delay and take as a wife a young English girl, named Mary Fielding, who had joined the Church through the preaching of Elder Parley P. Pratt in Toronto, Canada. Hyrum accepted this counsel from the Prophet and Mary Fielding became his wife and the mother of President Joseph F. Smith, who was born November 13, 1838.”

According the Ensign article, the grieving and mourning process is unique to the individual. Social protocol used to be a widow or widower was to wait a year before dating again. Modern input is for the grieving to date and/or remarry whenever they feel inclined to do so. One more example. Bryant S. Hinckley, father of President Gordon B. Hinckley, was married four times. First to Christina Johnson in 1893 and had 11 children. Married 1893 – 1908. Christina died after 14 years of marriage (Due to physical stress of having 11 children in a 14 year period?) Then about nine months later to Ada Bitner in 1909 and had 4 children ( including President Hinckley) Ada died in 1930. Then in early 1932 he married May Green, who died 1943. Finally, he married Lois Anderson in 1944. The “waiting period” between each successive marriage ranged from 9 months to about 18 months. We could well argue that had Bryant not remarried, we wouldn’t have had Gordon B. Hinckley. Still, I believe in his biography even President Hinckley struggled to understand why his father remarried so quickly after his own mother’s death.

By all accounts, it seems JFS and Bryant Hinckley were good, honorable men. But their propensity to re-marry (along with more modern apostolic example) almost seems to imply it is good to be married as much of our adult life as is reasonably possible. Or does it? I don’t know if we’ve ever actually been told to be married as much as possible. Elder Scott certainly doesn’t fit that pattern. Also, in each case, the wives beyond the first knew their groom was previously sealed to another wife. For those who think we’ll have unfettered agency in the next life, what are the implications of knowingly entering into a sealing ordinance in mortality knowing your spouse is sealed to another person? Would one expect to “renege” on the sealing ordinance on the afterlife when one had consented to it in mortality, knowing full well one’s spouse was sealed to another?

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

23 thoughts on “Letting the dead bury their dead

  1. I’ve feared this PH manual coming up, more than all the others combined. Why? Because Joseph Fielding was such a prolific and opinionated writer. We’ll see the sanitized version of him in the manual, but there are still a lot of copies of his books floating around, which I fear will be studied intensely and steer members away from modern prophets’ efforts to get us to following doctrine, and back into high levels of speculation taught authoritatively as doctrine. He fought evolution, man going to the moon, and argued with Talmage, Roberts and Widtsoe on science (when he had not a scientific mind as they did).

  2. Ram – interesting that you should bring up JFS’s writings. The only real reference as to “why” we don’t allow living women to be sealed to more than one man comes from the series Doctrines of Salvation:

    RAISING UP SEED UNTO ONE’S BROTHER. When a man and a woman are married in the temple for time and all eternity, and then the man dies and the woman marries another man, she can be married to him for time only. When a man marries a woman who was married previously to her husband in the temple but who has now died, he does so, or should, with his eyes open. If the children are born to this woman and her “time” husband, he has no claim upon those children. They go with the mother. This is the law. Certainly a man cannot in reason expect to take another man’s wife, after that man is dead, and rear a family by her and then claim the children. If he wants a family of his own, then he should marry a wife that he can have in eternity. This is in full harmony with the patriarchal order. What was the law anciently? Was not the second husband supposed to raise up seed for his brother?”
    Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.2, p.78 – p.79

    I vaguely remember how the sealing policies were written pre-1998 handbook, but I’ve got the 1998 and 2010 manuals stuck in my head. Anyway, since there is no doctrinal explanation referenced in the handbook behind the “living women – sealed to one many only” policy, the JFS explanation in Doctrines of Salvation is the only one that seems to make sense. I personally am still of the mindset that with the handbook revision in 1998, the door has been flung open to consider all sealings, whenever performed, whether living or vicariously, as being “effective” as long as the parties accept them and keep their covenants.

  3. First, I just want to comment that I don’t see any harm in JFS marrying as much as he did or in the time frame that he did. If my husband was left with our children to raise, I sure would want him to remarry and have the needed help in nurturing our children to adulthood. I also don’t want him to be alone. It is not good for man to be alone or woman! We complete each other; or we should complete each other. There was a lot of physical work to do in JFS era and having a companion, in my mind, would seem rational to get it all done- not to mention even more important reasons.

    As for having children in a second marriage with a spouse who is sealed to someone else; I personally believe we are all brother and sisters anyway and God will work it all out. He knows our hearts and desires. I see our God as a loving Father who would want us to love our new spouse and if children are a result of that love, then that’s great. These children would have the opportunity in their mortal life to be raised in the church; being baptized and taught the true restored doctrines. If we are faithful to our covenants made in the Temple, we will all be together anyway. And no I am not a polygamist or believe in it….

  4. Your children sealed to someone else only causes problems if:
    -You love yourself and your possessions more than you love your child’s happiness. Seriously, salvation in the celestial kingdom isn’t a zero sum game, where they are happy at your expense.

    – You have the incorrect feeling that we’ll all be sitting around the fireplace in the celestial kingdom with your perpetual toddler on your knee. Which of course, just doesn’t make sense when you consider your parents would apparently have the same thing so you’d be a toddler on their knee. And your parents would be a toddler on their grandparents knee…. It’s toddlers on knees all the way down!

    In the sense of not understanding much, and desiring to know more about sealing, we really haven’t come very far from the time of Brigham Young, who had a dream/vision of an encounter with Joseph Smith while camped at Council Bluffs:

    Said BY to JS “The brethren have a great anxiety to understand the law of adoption or sealing principles; and if you would have a word of counsel for me,I should be glad to receive it.”
    Joseph then gave an answer that could be summarized as what all the prophets since have told us — do good, do things that keep the spirit with you and ended with, “Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit of the Lord, and if they will they will find themselves just as they were organized by our Father in Heaven before they came into the world. Our Father in heaven organized the human family, but they are all disorganized and in great confusion.”
    -the record continues-
    Joseph then showed me the pattern how they were in the beginning. This I can not describe, but I saw it and saw where the Priesthood had been taken from the earth and how it must be joined together, so that there would be a perfect change from Father Adam to his latest posterity. Joseph again said, “Tell the people to be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and follow it, and it will lead them right.”

    Brigham went on to teach years later, that “I have had visions and revelations instructing me how to organize this people so that they can live like the family of heaven, but I cannot do it while so much selfishness and wickedness reign in the Elders of Israel. Many would make of the greatest blessings a curse to them, as they do now the plurality of wives — the abuse of that principle will send thousands to hell…”

    I only point these two connections out because this blog has dwelled on sealing and plural marriage as of late and this post connects those things at the margins as well. I think generally, we don’t understand sealing very well, but for me I’ve always just looked at it as the necessary linking of exalted generations back to God. And where there is a Father, there is a Father before Him, and so on. So its completely crucial to consider exaltation and the work of eternal lives. But I’ve never quite understood the modern take on it, where we all are sitting around the hearth with our kids gathered round, remembering old times for an eternity.

  5. I agree with Chris’s thoughts on how little we understand about the nature of eternal life.

    Celestial life after death is an odd notion to wrap your head around if, in fact, marriage (and other) relationships in heaven are simply extensions of marriage relationships and their roles, practices, and divisions of labor as they are on earth, transplanted into a heavenly sphere.

    I think Paul’s words to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:9), “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” is not just a “we Christians know something others don’t know” message, but a reminder to the Corinthian Christians that they (and we) don’t really fully comprehend how it really is either.

    Passages in the Doctrine and Covenants also talk about this earthly limitation on our perceptions, and in terms that also promise the possibility of growing slowly closer to heavenly understanding by listening to the Holy Spirit and responding to light and truth (76:1-10 and 50:24) until “the perfect day”. But it’s clear that we are, none of us, there yet. This is not “the perfect day.” Those few who have seen heaven in vision say that the response when one does see heaven as it is, is, instantly, worship (Rev.22:8).

    We have been taught principles and concepts that are at the core heavenly life: love, faith, being washed clean, unity, glory, light, truth, the power of God, sealing, eternity, divine intercession and atonement. These are of heaven. And they are of heaven and of heavenly relationships in a way far more enlightened, far-reaching, fair, just, merciful and glorious than the very best of earthly experiences that we have or that we create or can imagine with those principles here.

    We need to remember that. Earth does not circumscribe heaven nor is heaven simply a lovely, light-filled perfect version of the very best on earth. Heaven and life there is far beyond our wildest, most joyful, peaceful, just, honest, charitable, equitable, loving, powerful and light-filled dreams on earth. It is good to understand that it is better than anyone, divinely inspired or not, has been able to describe to you, including yourself.

  6. I think we’ll be perfect. We’ll be happy. We’ll be perfectly happy. I agree we really don’t know the extent of what eternal life will be like. But, our doctrine thus far is “every marriage is meant to be eternal.” We say if we seal a man and woman together, and if they keep their covenants (and accept the sealing ordinance if it was done vicariously) the sealing will be recognized. That means the three marriages of JFS, the four marriages of Bryant Hinckley, the three marriages of a sister in my stake, the countless thousands of second marriages entered into by widowed members, will all be effective if the parties thereto keep their covenants. Therefore, the marital decisions we make here — in mortality — have an eternal impact. (I also think there will be plenty of marital decisions made in the hereafter, but that’s another topic). Which brings me back to the theme of the post: Is it good to be married as much of our adult lives as possible?

  7. You make the assertion that Christine Johnson Hinckley may have died as a result of her reproductive history. Based on her death certificate, Christine died of appendicitis, and may have had an inflamed gallbladder. As far as I’m aware, appendicitis is not related to the number of children you have born, though the gall bladder problems can be related to being “fertile, fat, female, forty.”

    As for whether it is good to be married as much of our adult lives as possible, I suggest the answer is “it depends.” I would certainly hate to have someone foist themselves on me or someone I love based solely on the premise that adults should be married.

  8. On the gall bladder inflammation, I had only born three children when I had to have my gall bladder removed. So again I challenge the flippant assertion that Christine died because she and her husband bred like rabbits.

  9. If I sounded flippant, I apologize. Was just wondering, watching my wife went through 5 pregnancies and the physical toll it took on her body, if Sister Hinckley’s health was compromised. It was a parenthetical question. As to the other main question, I agree “it depends,” but the factors that would go into the decision making process might be strongly influenced if church leaders basically said ” it is not good for man or woman to be alone — therefore, stay married as much as possible.”

  10. “but the factors that would go into the decision making process might be strongly influenced if church leaders basically said ” it is not good for man or woman to be alone — therefore, stay married as much as possible.””

    We are a religion that places a high value on marriage, period. But wisdom and order in all things right?

  11. The majority of widowers will either remarry or be in a serious, committed relationship within 2 years of their wife passing on. I don’t think it’s a doctrinal issue as it is a biological one.

  12. IDIAT – I think you really want to cling to the idea that a man will have multiple wives if they all agree to it in the hereafter.

    That may or may not be the case. I can’t say… What I do know, is that regardless of what was said in the ordinance, and regardless of who accept it, it will still all depend on the Holy Spirit of Promise “ratifying” that ordinance in accordance with our eternal destiny. From what we understand of salvation in the highest degree of glory, our eternal destiny is to bring forth spirits into creation/organization within the family unit.

    The typical understanding, then, is to continue on in the Father’s “work and glory” and do the things he has done in the same pattern. The temple can potentially take on a whole new meaning if you consider not only the past as things were on this creation, but the past as things were in creations prior to this one, and expand it into the future and our role in one degree or another in other future creations.

    I find comfort in this sphere of thought, but I think if we consider these things too much, we ought to get our heads out of the clouds and do what JS said to BY — do those things here and now that will help us to live and progress with the spirit.

  13. Chris – I think I am stuck on the notion that what is bound on earth by proper priesthood authority ( sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise ) is also bound in heaven. There wouldn’t be much sense in performing plural sealings for the living and the dead otherwise. I think my older post Fanning Old Flames lays out church doctrine, with modern current references, pretty well.

  14. Chris,

    I don’t think IDIAT is unique in clinging to the idea that a man will have multiple wives if they all agree to it in the hereafter.

    IDIAT is rather unique in clinging to the idea that a woman may have multiple husbands in the hereafter (if they all agree to it). IDIAT takes this view since current policy allows descendants to seal a female ancestor to all the men with whom she had a marital relationship (whether ceremonial or de facto). Policy aside, I am not aware of any doctrinal basis for the idea that a woman would be eternally sealed to multiple spouses.

    For what it’s worth, there are cultures where polyandry is practiced. However the literature tends to say that ~70% of world cultures accept/practice polygyny while only ~1% practice polyandry.

    Of course we must always remember that our own western culture at this moment figures you can hook up with whomever you wish whenever you wish. While the judeo-christian ideal embraced by Mormons enjoins us to love everyone, I don’t think that is meant to encourage polyamory or eternal polyamorous “families.”

  15. Meg – pre-1998, I wouldn’t have thought eternal polyandry possible. But, with the change in sealing policy, and it’s continuation in the 2010 handbook, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be a possibility. It does seem to be an all or nothing proposition. Men could be plural but women have to choose – this is the position taken by church leaders of old but I can’t find modern day support for this position. Men and women could be plural which seems implied by the language of current sealing policies. Or we will be paired off in two’s and there will be a lot of choices to be made. I do know Elder Oaks has said he expects to be with both of his wives in the eternities. I keep coming back to the oft repeated phrase “all marriages are meant to be eternal.” Maybe I take that too literally, but to me, all means all.

  16. Since the beginning, marriage has been a law of the gospel. Marriages are intended to last forever, not just for our mortal lives. (Gospel Principles, Chapter 38: Eternal Marriage). I don’t see a qualifier that says only first, or some marriages, are intended to last forever. I think church leaders would say second marriages ( after death of a spouse ) are just as important as the first marriage. The current sealing policies seem designed to accommodate this principle.

  17. Idiat, thats kind of extremist to insist worlds of new doctrine and eternal possibility based on the extreme cases in a messy world.

    Lets just cut to it this way… You seem to be insisting to words in a way the prevent any other conclusion. We might get huffy over “there is one God” and “God was once a man…” or ” And where was there ever a father without first being a son?” or potentially a hundred other gospel contradictions.

    Now if polyandry is the eternal reality so be it. But you specifically are not authorized to teach it, I do not believe it was revealed from God on high to you, and if it were you’d implicitly follow the chain of authority with respect to it.

    Not intending harshness as this is just a discussion… But that’s why we cant just cite authority and say “here is what it says therefore this is the truth”, because no one in authority is teaching in the way you are.

  18. But no one in authority is not teaching it that way. And that’s my point. When is the last time you heard an apostle teach “men will be plural but women will have to choose”? I am not teaching it, just saying polyandry is possible. You teach me. Tell me about the changes to the sealing policies, cite the doctrine behind them, give me published church discussions of them, and so forth. This is a subject I’ve kept up with for 30 years. If you have something you can point to in published manuals, conference talks, the Ensign, I would be glad to see it. We don’t seal living women to more than one husband, right? Yet, I know of a couple of incidences less than 50 years ago when a living woman was sealed to more than one man. The moment you say only first marriages matter, you de facto make a mockery of all second marriages. The woman married to husband 1 for 15 years then to husband 2 for 50 years – I guess it is obvious to you she would want to only spend eternity with her first husband, right? It isn’t obvious to me. I would rather keep my mind open to the possibility that reasonable accommodations will me made to all those who want to perpetuate their marital relationships beyond the veil. And if more doctrine is revealed by leaders on the subject later, I am confident I will have no trouble receiving a confirmation of it.

  19. Chris – it might just be the wording of your comment, but I sense a bit of hostility. I’m not trying to pick a fight, as I know all this is speculative. I am surprised, however, at the reactions this subject brings out in people. I have a close friend whose father died suddenly at about 42 years of marriage; her mother then remarried about 18 months later, and has remained married for the last 20 or so years. I asked her the other day if, in light of current sealing policies, she was going to seal her mother to her step-father. Heretofore, she had had nothing but neutral to positive things to say about her step-father. But at this question, her whole countenance changed and she angrily exclaimed “There is no way I would ever seal them together! If he wants a wife in the eternities, he’ll have to get another one.” So goes the allegiance and loyalty we give to birth parents. I gingerly asked “What if your mother asks you to seal them together after they are dead — would you expressly deny this request of you by your mother?” “Yes, I would deny it. I’m sure one of my other siblings or one of the grandkids or maybe someone on his side of the family would do it eventually, but it won’t be me.” To me, that’s just sad. To think we’re so hung up perceived allegiances and loyalties in this life that we wouldn’t acknowledge the possiblity that maybe — just maybe — mother might want to spend eternity with step-father and/or both the husbands she had in mortality. My wife’s grandmother is sealed to 4 husbands, all of whom were married following divorces. Maybe not so much feeling there, but you never know. I just did the succession of a man who was married 45 years to wife 1, then 25 years to wife 2 who widowed and was previously sealed. She clearly expressed the love and feelings she had for both men and hopes to spend eternity with both of them. Whether we’ll be plural or monogamous or some combination thereof, I don’t know. At this point, I don’t think church leaders know, either. Hence the change to the sealing policies to allow (eventually) everyone who’s been married to be sealed to his/her spouse — then we’ll let the parties sort it out in the hereafter.

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