Our son, Wort, and his wife, Cooky, have a young woman from their church staying in their home. She’s 19 and is engaged to a university student from China. Cooky said the girl and her fiancé are “just kids.” I suspect that’s code for “immature.” The pastor of their church has told the couple to put their marriage plans on hold for awhile. He doesn’t see them as ready for marriage responsibilities.
I can’t imagine a Mormon bishop telling an engaged couple to delay their marriage plans unless they had some serious repentance issues to address. Mormon concern that engaged couples might succumb to “the sin second only to murder” creates brief courtships and briefer engagement periods.
Besides, Mormon bishops are not professionally trained ministers or counselors. One week they’re the insurance salesman next door, the next they’re your ecclesiastic leader for the next five years. A counselee may have hung out with the bishop’s kids a few years earlier. Memories of her current spiritual leader yelling at his daughter, “Turn that damned music down!” may drown out his advice on family harmony.
Contrary to popular Mormon belief, ours is not the only church which doesn’t condone premarital sex. In our son’s church, couples who jump into bed together before the legal ceremony don’t get a church wedding. Yet, pastors feel free to recommend postponing a wedding. Couples must also take a church-led class on marriage to qualify for the church wedding.
So what happens to couples who get too cozy before the wedding? They have a civil wedding—no guilt, no lesser status. Their eternal family life is not jeopardized.
Mormons place a high priority on temple sealing as the basis of a happy marriage. While it is a plus for a couple to enter into marriage with similar spiritual goals, I’m not convinced the temple ceremony adequately prepares a couple to deal with potential conflicts about sex, money, in-laws, children, and other problems that arise.
Quoting old, unreliable statistics that show an extremely low divorce rate (6%) for temple marriages ignores the problem of the many troubled and failed marriages in Mormondom. The problem with available statistics on temple divorces is that previous studies have counted only cancellation of sealings as divorce between the temple married. A small minority of Mormons take that step. Most end their relationship with a civil divorce.
A new study to provide reliable statistics on the rate of failure of temple marriages is needed. With reliable information, Church policy could change beyond the goal of getting couples to the temple and address the problem of preparing couples for successful marriage.
I think we all know Mormons with unhappy temple marriages. A friend once said, “We tell our children how wonderful temple marriage is; then show them how wonderful it isn’t.”
I’d like to see pre-marriage classes, taught by LDS Social Service counselors, added as a prerequisite for temple marriage. Providing a couple with tools for dealing with the problems that arise in a marriage is common sense. Modern marriage and family relationships are little threatened by gay marriage or Satan’s buffetings. Real marriages most often run into conflict when couples have different expectations and no idea how to resolve them. It’s time for Mormons to take a less idealized view of marriage and its accompanying problems and to prepare young people for real life in the 21st century.