Jun 11, 2010

Families Are Forever: Who Is Your Family?

I've been thinking lately about the concept of "family."

I'm lucky. I have a close, loving family and was recently fortunate enough to have some of my family members come to visit me in Norway for the first time. I love my family and I'm thankful for the relationship that we have with each other.

My family is not limited to biological relatives or in-laws, however. I have four biological brothers, but I also have a brother from Afghanistan (you can read my previous posts for the background story). We're neither biologically nor legally related, but we're family nonetheless.

So how does this type of family fit into Mormon theology?

In early Mormonism, there was a practice known as the Law of Adoption, in which men who were not related to each other were sealed to each other, like as fathers and sons. The practice was eventually discontinued and there is nothing comparable in modern Mormonism that I am aware of, but it's an interesting concept in terms of connecting people for eternity that wouldn't otherwise have a reason to be sealed to each other.

Aside from Islam, which teaches that Muslim couples are married for eternity, I'm not aware of any other religion outside of Mormonism that believes in eternal marriage or eternal families. From what I understand, most other Christian denominations would point to Matthew 22:30 as evidence for the marriage (or perhaps family) relationship being dissolved after death:

"At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they
will be like the angels in heaven."

I understand that to mean that in heaven, all people will be of equal standing and that there will be no husbands, wives, children, etc. Instead, perhaps we'll just be one big "happy family" as opposed to many individual family units.

For those of us who have had a happy family life, the prospect of an eternal family is, of course, something that gives us a lot of hope and comfort. But some people would rather spend eternity with their friends than their families. Some have strained family relationships, or have been abused and betrayed by their family members. Or others may have a good relationship with their families, but they may also have close friends that they love like their families.

I think that most people of faith believe that they will be reunited with their loved ones after death, but how many believe that they will still be a family? And what is the significance of that family bond in the Hereafter? Is it symbolic or literal? And will our eternal family only consist of those who were our "real" family in this life?

I've learned so much in recent months about family and what it means to me. I want to be with my family forever, but my family extends beyond the traditional Mormon definition.

Who is your family? Is it limited to those who are related to you biologically or legally? Do you have friends that you love as family? Do you believe you will spend eternity with them? And if so, how do you think your relationship will be?


Matthew said...

My view on family is pretty open. Blood relationships are pretty much irrelevant to me altogether. I simply don't see it as being as important as the emotional bonds we forge.

I want all of my people, my tribe, the ones I love to come with me to return to our Father. They are a varied lot: colleagues, family, childhood friends, and more. They come from many countries and adhere to many faiths, and yet I consider them to be my family.

Ultimately, I think that the genius of sealing is that it makes us all kin. Family, I believe will be a large affair in the hereafter, although I also believe we will have the capacity to enjoy so very many relationships, which will be both untroubled by mortal difficulties and healed through the power of the Atonement.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Lovely thoughts, Matthew. Thanks for sharing that. :)

Chris Almond said...

Intersting post.
I just wanted to share a few more religions that teach something like an eternal marriage, though generally not in as concrete terms as Mormonism.THis is not a complete list, but some I am aware of off the top of my head:
Baha'i (though, it may be seen as an offshoot of islam)
Eastern Orthodox Christian
Oriental Orthodox Christian

The Faithful Dissident said...

Chris, thanks for remindind me of Swedenborgianism. I recognized the name, but really knew nothing about it. I read the summary on Wikipedia and found this part to be particularly interesting:

"Early missionaries also traveled to parts of Africa as Swedenborg himself believed that the "African race" was "in greater enlightenment than others on this earth, since they are such that they think more interiorly, and so receive truths and acknowledge them." (A Treatise concerning the Last Judgment, n. 118) At the time these concepts of African enlightenment were judged highly liberal; Swedenborgians accepted freed African converts to their homes as early as 1790. Several of them were also involved in abolitionism."

Chris Almond said...

Yeah, Swedenborgians have a lot of cool beliefs.
If you find religion with progressive belief systems interesting, you may also appreciate the Baha'i faith.
They have quite a bit in common with Mormonism, was founded around the same time, except from it's inception has advocated for racial and gender equality, which I feel is what one should expect of a religion which claims divine inspiration. To promote ethics which society won't come around to for more than one hundred years, rather than playing catch-up to the zeitgeist decades later.

SimplyMe said...

I attended Baha'i devotionals for several months and I loved their inclusivity. I became acquainted with the group through a colleague who is a non practicing LDS woman. Many of the principles are intriguing however I had difficulty saying everything in the name of Bahaula (spelling I know is wrong) and references to Jesus were in regards to him being a prophet only. But again, I loved the principles of the faith and wish that there was such equality as a focus in the mormon faith as well.

I like the comment that sealing makes us all kin. I don't think that I can believe in families forever as concrete as the mormon church teaches. I do believe that we will all be together again some day and that we will be able to recognize each other and our relationships in some way. That is what keeps me going in my efforts to build relationships with people in my life that are hard to be in relationship with. It has to mean something in the end or why would it be so hard?

Great post and it's great to hear from you again FD.

Kaylanamars said...

I think we'll be happy families in the next life. But I don't believe in any sort of sealing power to keep us together for the next. I just think about love and that about sums it up for me in this life and, if there is one, the next life.

Mormon Heretic said...

There was a session on the Law of Adoption at the Mormon History Association meetings a few weeks ago that I really wanted to attend. (I had to make a difficult choice and attended a session about the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri instead.)

Anyway, I believe Leonard Arrington discusses the change in sealing. I believe in the 1890's. Rather than adoptive sealings, Mormons were encouraged to do genealogy and be sealed to previous generations instead. So, while the Law of Adoption wasn't officially replaced, it does seem that the emphasis on genealogy is a result of the change.

Mormon Heretic said...

I think the sealing between a man and a woman is a wonderful ordinance. But this whole business of sealing parents to children just makes no theological sense to me at all. My parents were sealed in the temple. I've been sealed to my wife in the temple. If the purpose of this life is to obtain exaltation, I'm not going to be hanging out in my parent's exalted living room. The sealing to the man and the woman is what is important, not parents to children.

I read a book called "More Wives Than One" by Kathryn Daines. She discusses polygamy in Manti, Utah. She notes that there were some sealings done in Nauvoo to children who were too young to get married. If I remember correctly, a 12-year old boy was sealed to a 10 year old girl because the Saints knew they were moving west and wouldn't have a temple to be sealed in. However, the "couple" was not actually married--they never consummated the marriage and continued to live with their families. The 2 ended up marrying other people and never had a "real" marriage with each other. They were sealed simply so that they could receive the sealing ordinance which they knew probably wouldn't be available as they traveled west. Frankly, it reminded me of Catholics baptizing infants simply to avoid Hell if they died right away. This sort of sealing seems odd to me. While such sealings were rare, it indicates to me that the sealing between husband and wife is of supreme important, rather than parents to children.

I believe that this whole idea of being "born into the covenant" is a similar mindset. A young child "needs" to be sealed to someone, so until they become of age to be sealed to a spouse, they are "temporarily" sealed to a parent. The real sealing is between a man and a wife.

Additionally, I read "Great Basin Kingdom" by Leonard Arrington that discusses "adoptive sealings." For example, John D Lee was sealed as a son to Brigham Young. If I remember correctly, many church members wanted to be sealed to Brigham and Joseph so that they would have a greater chance at exaltation. I believe it was in the 1880's that church leaders became uncomfortable with this practice, and disallowed such sealings. Instead, they encouraged members to seek out their ancestors and create a welding link from the fathers to the children. So, it seems to me this "families are forever" saying can be traced back to this change from the 1880's. I think the emphasis for baptism for the dead and endowments is really where the focus should be. Spouses should be sealed to each other, but from a theological perspective, sealing children to parents doesn't make any practical sense to me. I believe it is done merely to seal a child to a parent in case the child isn't sealed to a spouse due to early death or some other reason like that. Posthumous sealings by proxy only seem "necessary" if a child dies too young to obtain a spouse.

Richard Redick said...

Theologically, I believe that the sealings of children to parents is to forge a "welding link" (as Joseph Smith called it) between the generations, organizing them as one, in Christ. Brigham Young said we would perform such sealings until there was a perfect chain of priesthood from Adam to the latest generation. I agree with you that we are not going to be in our parents' celestial living room to all eternity. We are all one generation of our Heavenly Parent's children, regardless of which millenium we are born into. I also believe that the "magic" of the sealing ordinances is found, not in the ceremony, but in the walk we walk after the ceremony (same can be said of baptism). These rites are special moments of planting of promises into our hearts, but we must labor daily to remind ourselves of these promises, and keep our faith in them alive.

Anyway, I teach my children that we are all brothers and sisters. I teach them that there will always be a special relationship between us, due to this mortal life, but I am not their eternal father. They already have an Eternal Father.

Anonymous said...


Really glad to see you writing again -- I thought of you when Norway finished ahead of the USA in the ice hockey championships a few weeks ago.

And you and MH just taught me something about how parallel universes fit together with lineage I hadn't considered before.

I'm personally very curious to see the other lives my wife and I could have led with each other or without, who our copies married, all the children this copy had in other worlds, all the variations of my parents lives (sorry, I think there is probably only one set of parents per customer), all my possible biological brothers and sisters, etc. We'll have very large eternal families, I expect, even with monogamy per parallel universe.


Suzy Mormon said...

I just found your blog and have spent the last several hours going back and forth between subjects. I was sorry to see the discussion on plural marriage/Joseph Smith and Emma Smith wear out! Very interesting.
My family is a variety of people that I love. I am "sealed" to my husband and my children. Just as my children have grown up and moved away from our house, I think in the eternal realm our children will be in separate spaces.But, because of the family experiences we have enjoyed here we join together often, rejoice in accomplishments and add strength to each other in trials. I think it will be thus in our lives to come. However, we also raised a child to which we could never implement a sealing. I have no idea where she will be in the next life. Will she be with my husband and I or with her biological parents who very dearly wanted to raise her but could not. My faith in God's love for us is such that I believe He does not waste love and she will be one more of my children, living in her separate space just as my sealed children will be. Her parents, based on their worthiness will also have claim to her. Why not? Too often, in the LDS church, I find people who think of sealings as "ownership" rather than a link promised and desired because of the relationship we have forged here on earth. Perhaps I am too simplistic.
To go further, do you believe we have formed relationships with others, in our pre-earth life to whom we will desire an extended relationship though we did not live in the same time frame here on earth?

The Faithful Dissident said...

"To go further, do you believe we have formed relationships with others, in our pre-earth life to whom we will desire an extended relationship though we did not live in the same time frame here on earth?"

That's a good question, Suzy. I suppose it makes sense that this is a possibility. It sort of reminds me of when women have a miscarriage or a baby dies shortly after birth. Mormons like to say that the parents will have the chance to raise that child in the next life. Also, most Mormons believe that they chose their family in the pre-existence. So even though they never get to know their own child in this life because of death, they knew the child before and they will know them again.