The last line of Elder Nelson’s conference talk states that we “may be assured of exaltation in the kingdom of God.” What an amazing promise. He makes this wonderful declaration to the Saints conditional upon several requirements. In doing so, he is speaking on behalf of the Lord as a prophet and apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is only repeating what the Lord has promised.
One of those requirements of course, is to be married in the temple and to have that marriage sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Elder Nelson’s discourse is entitled Celestial Marriage, which is another name for temple marriage. What he taught on Sunday afternoon was not new. He did not share anything that we haven’t been taught in the church for as long as I can recall.
Teaching with patterns
And yet, there were some who claimed that what he said was harsh, crude, unfair and unkind. They seemed particularly upset that he had used a shopping analogy which he called, “patterns of the shopper.” Go figure. These are the same people that were upset at Elder Bednar when he taught us the parable of the pickle – one of my all-time favorite conference talks. I love parables.
In the shopper analogy, Elder Nelson referred to lesser alternatives. He said that wise shoppers study their options before making their selection. They focus on quality and durability. In contrast, some shoppers look for bargains only to discover that their choice did not endure well. And sadly, there are those who try to steal what they want. We call them shoplifters.
The analogy applied to marriage
Making the analogy, he said, “A couple in love can choose a marriage of the highest quality or a lesser type that will not endure. Or they can choose neither and brazenly steal what they want as marital shoplifters.” He later said, “Some marital options are cheap, some are costly, and some are cunningly crafted by the adversary. Beware of his options. They always breed misery.”
Elder Nelson was pointing out that some have decided a marriage outside of the temple is acceptable to them. He clearly stated that such marriages are of a lesser type, but can be upgraded at any time. His reference to shoplifters who try to steal a marriage was clearly intended to identify same-sex marriage as false, and not a marriage at all in the eyes of God.
More than a hopeful wish
But that may not have been the portion of his discourse that elicited the declaration of harsh by some who were watching and providing an online commentary. Elder Nelson clearly pointed out that to receive the reward of a celestial marriage requires more than a hopeful wish. It requires making a wise choice in this life and can’t be put off until the next, as many apparently suppose.
“On occasion, I read in a newspaper obituary of an expectation that a recent death has reunited that person with a deceased spouse, when, in fact, they did not choose the eternal option. Instead, they opted for a marriage that was valid only as long as they both should live. Heavenly Father had offered them a supernal gift, but they refused it. And in rejecting the gift, they rejected the Giver of the gift.”
The seven deadly heresies
This reminds me of a quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie in a discourse delivered at BYU many years ago entitled, “The Seven Deadly Heresies.” He tells the story of a man, not a member of the Church who lived a life that was after the manner of the world. His wife, who was a member, and as faithful as she could be under the circumstances, asked him one day:
“You know the Church is true; why won’t you be baptized?” He replied, “Of course I know the Church is true, but I have no intention of changing my habits in order to join it. I prefer to live the way I do. But that doesn’t worry me in the slightest. I know that as soon as I die, you will have someone go to the temple and do the work for me and everything will come out all right.”
It was a complete waste of time
“He died and she had the work done in the temple. We do not…deny vicarious ordinances to people. But what will it profit him? There is no such thing as a second chance to gain salvation. This life is the time and the day of our probation. After this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.”
The quote above is the text that is found on the BYU website. But you can also listen to the recording and hear him say, referring to the fact that he died and the woman had his temple work done. “He did, and she did and it was a complete waste of time.” Now I know this has been discussed and dismissed by many on the online discussion forums, but it still rings true to me.
Reaction in online discussions
I have read blog entries from several individuals, whose husbands are not members, who said they just cringed when Elder Nelson was relating the pattern of the shopper. Some said they were glad their husbands were not present to hear the story. Others reported how discouraged and depressed they felt to realize that their marriage had been labeled to be of lesser value.
I’m not sure why this doctrine comes as a shock to so many when they hear it for the first time. I know Elder Nelson did not intend to offend anyone, especially those who did not marry in the temple. I can emphasize with those who feel that the leaders of the church are saying that their marriages are of a lesser value. But in the end, aren’t they teaching an important true doctrine?
Marriage can be upgraded
I know of many faithful individuals who have struggled with this all their married lives. Not understanding or accepting the doctrine, they chose to marry civilly when they were younger. As they matured in the gospel, it became clear to them that they had missed out on something very important. You can’t attend church on a regular basis and not hear this doctrine taught.
Upgrading a marriage can be a difficult task. Elder Nelson taught that it requires a mighty change of heart and a permanent personal upgrade. I admire those individuals who continue faithful in church activity over the years as they strive to qualify for both this personal upgrade and the marital upgrade. That mighty change of heart can take a lifetime to accomplish.
Summary and conclusion
I have written about this doctrine previously. Marriage is an earthly ordinance. It must be attended to in this life. It is true that we perform vicarious marriage in the temple for those who have passed on without the opportunity to obtain it in this life. But for those who have the choice to marry in the temple and choose to not do so, what promise do they have from God?
They have no promise. It is hopeful and wishful thinking to believe that God will allow them to take some extra classes or pay a little fine in order to receive the promised blessing of exaltation. After all, that’s what a temple marriage is all about. Exaltation is what God promises to those who choose a temple marriage and remain true and faithful to their covenants unto the end.