The Summer 2016 Readers’ Puzzle for SquareTwo concerned sealing practices in the LDS Church. The article explaining the puzzle explicated all the many interesting twists and turns of sealing practice, including the difference in sealing for men versus women, for living women versus dead women, and for widows versus divorcees. The issue concerning to whom children are sealed in the case of remarriage—and all its many variants—was also raised. Those who have not yet read the puzzle might be well served by reading it first before examining the results of the poll that accompanied it. 
The poll asked only four questions:
- Are you LDS? (Required question: If the respondent indicated they were not LDS, they exited the poll at this point. 99.4% of respondents were LDS.)
- Are you male or female? (Required question: It was felt that women might differ on knowledge about and attitudes towards LDS sealing practices, and this question allowed for that drill down.)
- Did you know ALL the sealing practices explained in the SquareTwo Summer 2016 Readers’ Puzzle before reading it? (Required question: We were very interested to know what percentage of respondents actually knew all the intricacies beforehand.)
- Open-ended comments were sought as well, but were not required.
The poll opened in August 2016 at the launch of SquareTwo’s summer issue, and these results were compiled in late October, 2016. The N size at the time of analysis was 162. This is not a terribly large N size, and so any generalizations made will have to be taken with a grain of salt. In addition, our readership is largely centrist, and consists of mostly educated LDS members from the United States—any generalizations will probably apply predominantly to that cohort and not to the larger population of all LDS members. Furthermore, 79.2% of respondents were female, and thus the sample is biased towards the knowledge and attitudes of LDS women.
Summary of Statistics
The poll’s first substantive question asked if the respondent had known all the particulars of LDS sealing practice before reading the Readers’ Puzzle. Of 158 LDS respondents, 60.2% said no, they had not, while 39.8% said yes, they had known all the details.
Figure 1: Percentage of Respondents Indicating Whether They Knew All the Particulars of LDS Sealing Practice Before Reading the SquareTwo Summer 2016 Readers’ Puzzle
Ninety-six respondents offered open-ended comments. Before turning to the actual content of those comments, a naïve thematic content analysis was performed to determine whether responses evinced primarily positive or primarily negative affect towards current sealing practices. Of the 96 responses, seven were positive, seven were unclear in their affect, and 82 (86%) were negative in their affect.
Figure 2: Affect of Open-Ended Comments
A check was performed to see if positivity and negativity was related to sex. Of the seven positive comments, four were made by males and three by females, that is, 57% of positive responses were made by males. Given that males comprised only 21% of the sample, this is a significant difference: males were disproportionately represented among the small minority of respondents expressing positive affect towards current LDS sealing practices.
Affect and Themes
The final segment of the analysis revolves around the content of the comments given. We first examine affect, followed by themes.
Since there were only seven positive comments, let’s examine those first. Three of the positive statements say very little beyond the fact that they felt positive affect:
“I’m fine with the current practice.” (Male) “I support them 100%.” (Male) “I'm completely completely comfortable with current practices.” (Female)
One response simply asserted that members of the Church should see acceptance as their duty:
“Christ is the head of the Church and its chief cornerstone. We are led by a prophet, and I accept anything that comes from God's divinely appointed servants. Our duty is to understand—not to attempt to dictate to God what His laws should be and what the policies and practices of His Church should be.” (Male)
Another stated that though they do not necessarily have a “burning testimony” of the practices, they did not feel any negative affect:
“I'm not bothered by them. Yes, they are somewhat strange, but I just don't find them in any way problematic. It's not that I have a burning testimony of the practices, but they do not disturb or in any way diminish my testimony.” (Male)
Another positive commenter suggested that despite seeming inequality, the practices were “just and fair” and so everything will be all right in the end:
“Although the practices are not ‘"equal’ for both sexes, I still personally feel it is just and fair. There will be a chance to sort everything out, the way it is best for each individual., in the next life - if in this life it is too sticky to sort. And no one in the end will be left lacking in any blessing or opportunity for eternal progression. I personally believe this is also a concept we cannot comprehend fully in this life, but that will unfold more in the next, once we have an infinite rather than finite comprehension.” (Female)
The last positive affect comment came from a female member that indicates the sealing practices are largely to make sure all children are sealed, and that that is what’s important:
“I wish there were some way to PUBLICIZE (!!!!) the doctrine. I feel really good about the fact that if my husband died and I remarried—while remaining faithful in the Church—that subsequent children would be sealed into the family of God. No re-seal necessary. It's revolutionary to think that men NEED to be sealed each time for their children to be brought into the covenant (I'm not sure [this] terminology is accurate, but hopefully you know what I mean). We hear a lot about OMG WOMEN ARE BEING OPPRESSED BY ETERNAL POLYGAMY!!! We know that what is sealed on earth [is also] sealed posthumously. Men and women are sealed equally! Bah!!!!! Why don't people know this? It is annoying to see "scholarly" types miss this point. It's lazy and doesn't speak well for the depth of their investigation...” (Female)
Responses with Unclear Affect
Unclear: Some of the unclear comments had no affect at all, such as “N/A,” “Where can I read the original article?” etc. However, a few unclear comments seemed to indicate mixed affect. For example, the following comment indicated neutral affect, but only in the context of having decided there is no polygamy in the hereafter, which seems on its face at odds with current practice of multiple sealing:
“The fact that there are differences between how many spouses a man or a woman can be sealed to has never bothered me. I think this is because I do not believe there will be polygamy in the next life and that we will all be able to decide who we'd like to be sealed to in monogamous couples. I suppose the current [practices] might bother me more if it affected my current situation, which it does not.” (Female)
A second type of mixed affect comment suggests the author does not have difficulty with the current practices, but that they acknowledge many around them do have deep negative feelings, and therefore the respondent feels there is a need to trust that God will sort it all out:
“I was a temple ordinance worker for ten years (released in April 2016). It was sometimes my task to escort women and/or children through their sealings. My brother—a temple sealer and stake patriarch—agonized over being sealed to his second wife after he was widowed. His first wife had expressed her extreme distaste for polygamy in the Celestial Kingdom. I do not find the idea abhorrent. Should something happen to me, I would want my husband to find someone who loved and cared for him in my place. I think I could love any woman who made him happy when I could not. That said, I recognize the extreme pain that the idea causes for many women and wish I could assuage their discomfort. I trust that God will sort things out to everyone's satisfaction. I don't know how else to deal with the matter.” (Female)
Negative Affect and Themes
There were 82 responses with negative affect toward current sealing practice. There were several discernible themes, including fairness as a principle, polygynous echoes, a questioning of whether families really can be together forever, the initial issue of giving in marriage, the issue of a lack of knowledge among current Church members about sealing contingencies, living in anticipatory fear, as well as sheer heartbreak experienced because of sealing practices.
Fairness as a Principle
Some of these responses pointed out in fairly succinct fashion that the sealings of men and women are not equal, but that they should be. Similarly, some responses indicate the commenter has always been troubled by the practices, but he or she does not go into detail. Other commentators make the point that these issues have not been given the attention needed. In other words, the principle of fairness is invoked as the primary reason for the negative affect felt by the commenter. Examples of these include the following comments:
“It is clear to me that living women need the right to be sealed to more than one man in the temple. That is the only way to provide maximum agency to both men and women on an equal basis.”
“This is an issue that has not received due attention. Ever since I learned about some of the differences, I've had a difficult time finding any answer as to why they exist. “
“These policies make no sense to me; it seems like an issue that grew more complicated over time and rather than examining the undermining spirit of things, a series of bizarre, nitpicky rules were created.
“There seems to be a huge oversight in regards to even paying attention to how women are affected by these practices.”
“There should be parity in the sealing practices. Women should have the same agency as men. “
“I think sealing practices in the Church should be the same for men and women.”
“I simply wish that the same options were given to living women as those who have passed on.”
“Women should be able to be sealed to more than one spouse, while still alive. Just as the deceased can work out the details later, we should allow the living the same privilege.”
“I think the rules should be the same for men and women.”
“I truly believe that women should be able to be sealed multiple times and let God sort it out.”
“Probably not fair.”
“Why can men get sealed to more than one woman but women to only one man? Sends the message that men are more valuable than women.”
“I don't even know where to start. All I know is that I do not agree with the double standard that exists between men and women. God says we are all equal and He loves us the same. I'm still waiting for the Church to recognize this and make the necessary changes in all areas of its stewardship.”
“Hard to understand the differences, especially if they change for the living and dead. If there have been exceptions on many rules in the past, perhaps we need more flexibility.”
“They are inequitable. Men and women should have equal access to the sealing ordinance, alive or dead.”
“The inequities in sealing practices between men and women have always been one of the greatest sources of concern in my understanding of gender roles and equality in LDS Church doctrine and practice. I frankly don't understand the rationale for the discrepancy, particularly in light of current teachings about equality between men and women. I did not previously fully understand that deceased women were given the equal amount of agency as men (as the reader's puzzle put it), and that is somewhat comforting; however, it also underscores how perverse it is that the gender-based inequities in the sealing policy during people's mortal lives persist in Church policy.”
“Since the current practice of sealing women to multiple men after they are dead assumes the importance of ‘maximum agency,’ it makes sense to issue the same permission to living women. Bishops and stake presidents could continue to use discretion, just as they do currently in the matter of canceling sealings.”
“Although I can appreciate removal of a sealing, [it] is not ideal as it can take away the opportunity of maximum blessings. Once again, I feel disappointed that women appear to be yet again unequal to men and are denied the same rights.”
“While I believe in temple sealing ordinances and their importance, I think there is no real clarity from the authorities in their practice and application. I hope it is cleared up in this life, but I know HF does not abide any injustice in the next.”
A second theme that emerged was the feeling that current sealing practices invoked polygamy (actually, polygyny), and perhaps even implied polygyny as the marriage pattern in heaven. Given the Church has disavowed the practice of polygamy since 1890, this implication is disturbing to these commenters.
“This rears up the ugly head of ‘celestial polygamy’ once again. Why do we insist a man may have all his spouses but a woman must choose just one in the hereafter? And if choosing will really take place in the next life, why not allow her to be sealed to more than one man during her lifetime? This is sexism at a deep and pernicious level. Women are still fundamentally considered the property of men.”
“I have always been troubled by the fact that women can only be sealed to one man while men can be sealed to many women. For one, it seems patently unfair, and second, the only logical reason I can see for it is that polygamy is an eternal principle (which I simply cannot believe). . . I find this discrepancy in sealing extremely perplexing. It also fills me with anxiety to think that should I experience an untimely death, my husband might get sealed to another wife. Of course I would want him to remarry for my children and the companionship it would provide him, but the thought of sharing my husband for eternity undermines everything I love about my marriage.”
“They're just not defensible and they stem from the early practice of polygamy in the church. If we truly decry polygamy, then woman should receive the same marital rights.”
“There's no good reason to have different sealing practices between men and women. At best, it's sexist. At worst, it perpetuates damaging thought about polygamy.”
“These sealing practices are awfully convoluted, confusing, and heartbreaking to many I love. I am accustomed to a church built on principles and doctrines. What principle/doctrine can we turn to that is the foundation of these practices? To me, the only foundational principle I can find is that polygamy is something we should be preparing ourselves for in the eternities. It feels like there should be a larger principle/doctrine these practices should be built upon, one that is more equitable. I believe in a merciful God who will make all things right. Rather than get stuck on the technicalities, I'd much rather see our practices in this life err on the side of compassion and helping all families who desire it to unite in covenant relationships with God.”
“They're awful. I'm starting to believe more and more that the sealing practices were meant to be a lot more symbolic than anything else, and are not binding in the literal sense that we tend to view them as. I believe the sexism within these practices is a legacy of the plural wives practice in the Church's early days.”
“I believe that it should straight up be the same for both men and women. Women should be able to be sealed the same way a man can. The thing is that the current sealing practices for women can ONLY hurt when compared to men's. It's traumatic for the people who have to deal with the consequences. Also, is it because polygamy is a precedent? I think it is. Since polygamy is not practiced now (and you'd even be excommunicated for doing it) why hasn't this also been changed to match current practices?”
“I get very frustrated when I hear people say that the church does not practice polygamy [because] we do in our temples. This article makes [the issue] even more one-sided in terms of men, [making it] confusing and backwards in my eyes. This cannot change until the foundation of the priesthood changes within the church, and can I just follow that with a big old sigh?”
“I believe men and women both living and dead should have the same agency. I also know God is perfect and though I don't understand everything about how sealings work after this life, I believe God is just and that we will be truly happy. I have always felt weird that men could be sealed to more than one woman, but not about the fact that women could only be sealed to one man. I always linked the two together with polygamy and its effects in the afterlife, which honestly is the only thing about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that I’m [uncertain] about. But I believe our loving Heavenly Father would never take away our agency.”
“I think they stink. It's patriarchy at its worst. It favors men and proves that though the Church has mostly denounced polygamy, they are still practicing it. It angers me.”
“My feelings are very complicated. On the one hand, I want women to enjoy the same sealing privileges as men. I’ve had friends who have been widowed at a young age—as was my now mother-in-law— and as the article states, it makes dating LDS men very complicated. There are few who are willing to marry these women if it is for time only. On the other hand, I dislike sealings to multiple people because I find polygamy either in this life or the next to be deeply troubling. That said, I would ultimately support that women (living too) could be sealed more than once—not in the pursuit of eternal polygamy, but [in accordance with] the idea that President Faust expressed of increased agency in the eternities.”
“The current sealing practices endorse polygamous relationships. I think the requirements for sealing that differ between men/women don't make logical sense. Men are sealed as if polygamy is the true doctrine [while] women can [only be sealed to multiple men] after their death (but they'll only pick one and that it'll all work out in heaven). I [also] think a divorce [should automatically] break the seal.”
The issue of women married to LDS widowers who have been sealed previously is especially poignant. Many of these women feel they are fated for an eternal polygynous relationship:
“I'm angry, honestly. I'm the second wife sealed to a widower. The current sealing practices of the Church encourage so many problematic things in marriages. My marriage is a polygamous marriage in every sense but the physical. I hate that I will never have my husband's whole heart and that I get to live in his first wife's shadow for all time. My experience is not unique—I'm a part of support groups several wives of widowers, and Mormon women suffer the most in marriages to widowers.”
“It definitely makes sense to promote equality within the confines of ‘maximum agency’ for both men and women in the Church. My husband is still ‘sealed’ to his ex-wife, and I am his second wife (not previously married). We did obtain a sealing clearance in order to be sealed ourselves, and that was its own long and arduous ordeal, but often people close to me ask me how it feels to be the "second wife" and/or [how it is to] know that she is still sealed to me. It often comes down to my faith in God to know that our ‘heaven’ will consist of many things that we don't now understand, but logistically, it would be great to have Church policy be a bit more objective and understanding regarding these things.”
Can “families can be together forever”? Who am I? Who is my family?
A third theme that emerged centered around the Church’s teaching that “families can be together forever.” Given the intricacies of sealing practice, for some it seemed the practices condemned them to the opposite: that their family could not be together forever, and that there was no hope at all. Others wondered whether any of our mortal relationships were eternal, and that perhaps all of us were proxies to one another for our eternal families. In addition, the plight of “sealed” children whose parents are no longer sealed to one another was particularly moving. Representative comments include:
“While I believe that current practices disadvantage women, as someone who has been married and sealed twice to two different women, I feel comfortable in my understanding of the practice that we are sealed to the ‘promise’ of having an eternal companion rather than a particular spouse. I don't think the Church explains it very well with its "families can be together forever" language, although I suppose I hope that is true.”
“I am a life-long, active, and sealed member [of the Church] but I have become more and more cynical about sealings and temple work as time goes on. I find it incredibly difficult to believe that the default plan of our loving Heavenly Parents is that families will be ripped apart upon death, and that a sealing ritual (that I have never seen in scripture regarding marriage, or in a latter-day revelation explaining the logistics of these practices, let alone the temple ceremony) somehow trumps those familial bonds created of love and fidelity when it comes to who will be with who in the eternities. I think we should be a little more humble in recognizing that we don't really have much of an idea at all as to how these things are all going to shake out. A good start would be having sealing practices the same for all men and all women., at the very least.”
“Having to get adopted in order to get sealed to my step-dad, siblings, and mother, caused me to seriously struggle in my testimony as a youth.”
“When I was younger, I liked the basic idea that a family could be sealed together forever. Now that I am older and understand how complicated and diverse family connections and relationships can be, I find sealing practices to be so exclusionary on so many different levels.”
“I have been given the explanation that "it will all get sorted out in the eternities" but honestly, the whole network of sealing is terribly confusing to me. My parents, for example, were sealed in the temple and then divorced. My dad remarried in the temple. My mother broke her seal and remarried in the temple. But I am still sealed to my two parents who are not sealed to each other. So confusing. There are dozens of other examples that just don't make sense to me.”
“I think some of the policies deny women their full agency. Legally, the US and other countries no longer adhere to couverture laws whereby women and children are de facto property of the husband/father and I have a really hard time believing heaven operates that way. I find it unfair and appalling that women don't get to be sealed to multiple spouses in their lifetimes, that women have to worry about remaining sealed to their abuser or sharing their spouse with an ex-wife with whom there is a fraught relationship. The policy about children of a second marriage being sealed to the first husband seems profoundly unfair to a child's biological father and psychologically damaging to children (Johnny, when you die, God is going to take away your daddy and make you live with someone else). Unfortunately, these policies are deeply embedded in the current and historical temple ceremony, which mirrors couverture laws by treating women and children not as full agents in their own exaltation but as door prizes for men who enter the Celestial Kingdom. Until the brethren acknowledge this and are ready to grapple with temple theology, they can only provide lip service to the real pain and anguish so many women (and men too) feel about current sealing policies.”
“As a single adult female, I am confused about who I am sealed to. My parents were divorced while I was on my mission and my mother requested a cancellation of sealing and was remarried two years ago. I feel like a lone reed. I was told I still have the blessings of being born "in the covenant," but I'm not even sure what that means.”
“I am the only child of my mother and father (who were married/sealed as young adults). Around the time of my birth, my father took his own life and my mother was a 21-year-old widow. At 25, she met a man who wanted to marry her (and be sealed to her), but would only do so if she had the original sealing canceled. She hesitated and was also counseled by her parents not to pursue that cancelation, but she [would] then forfeit the chance of [remarriage] and having more children with a man who wanted an eternal family. [Ultimately], she decided to request the cancelation from the First Presidency. It was denied. She requested a second time, accompanied with a letter from her mother-in-law—my father's mother—who did not want my mother to miss out on the opportunity to remarry and have more children. The cancelation request was approved with the understanding that I remain sealed to my father. She was then sealed to my step-father and had three more children. After fourteen years of marriage and a handful of extramarital affairs on my step-father's part, they divorced. The irony of [the situation] is difficult for my mom who has remained a faithful covenant-keeper. I have struggled to know how this "all works out" and have asked my bishops, stake presidents, and ultimately, our temple president for some insight. None of them have really known what to tell me except, "things will work out as they are meant to." I am fine with that answer; however, when the temple sealing is taught to be the culminating ordinance of this life and the importance (and urgency!) of ensuring its completion for everyone who has lived is taught in our doctrine, there seems to be a conflict.”
“Extremely sexist sealing policies! As a single woman who had never been married, it was extremely traumatic to me (and to several friends in similar circumstances) to marry an LDS man who was a divorcee, knowing that his sealing to his ex-wife was still intact. In fact, for many years I had dreams that we weren't actually married. Horrible practice. Why not cancel their sealing if they have chosen not to honor their legal and lawful covenant to be married in this life? Our sealer told us what his understanding was: that the ex-wife needed the sealing to God to be able to enter into the Celestial Kingdom (and that the actual sealing to each other wouldn't be binding) but I don't know really know if that's official Church doctrine.”
“Giving” in marriage
A fourth theme that emerged concerned how the differences in sealing practice might be traceable to the differences in “giving” and “taking” in the original marriage ceremony of sealing. Some felt this is where the inequity finds its root:
“I would sincerely like to know why a wife ‘gives’ herself to her husband when she is sealed to him, but he does not give himself to her. I've also been searching and praying for an understanding of why the wording for women is "unto your husband" while the wording for men is "unto God". Why don't we give ourselves to each other and have a relationship with God as equals? What we are taught over the pulpit at General Conference about equality in marriage isn't reflected in the temple. I want to believe that God loves and values His daughters as much as He does His sons, but the practice of polygamy and the current wording in the temple have made it difficult for me to feel optimistic about women and men being equal (and equally happy) in the next life.”
“Polygamy is alive and well. I dislike that I give myself to my husband, but he does not give himself to me.”
“My last thought is not about the question of who is sealed to whom, but the sealing ordinance itself. It is yet another instance of a gender difference that seems ungodly to me. Wives give themselves to husbands [while] husband take wives. Although one could argue that a freewill offering of oneself is an act of power, it seems more like a power imbalance. Why do husbands not take wives and give themselves to their wives, and wives take husbands and give themselves to their husbands? Is there some eternal wrongness in a husband giving himself to his wife? This sounds like an ownership contract. Not very appealing. Not very godly.”
Issue of people not knowing these things, despite being raised in the Church
Given our findings that over 60% of our respondents did not know all the intricacies of current LDS sealing practice—despite some of them having been born and raised in the Church—another theme was trying to understand why these practices are not known until one “hits” them in full force when there is a death or a divorce. These comments suggest that better education of Church members is desirable. Representative comments include:
“I think there is a lot about the sealing ordinance that we simply do not know or understand, and that we've romanticized it in ways that are often not constructive. The bizarre double standard that exists is likely the result of cultural influences and imperfect leaders doing their best to explain an ordinance that we don't know very much about. I do think it's important for Church leaders to think out very carefully how current sealing policy directly affects members (both men and women alike) and also to do a better job of educating Church members about what we do and do not know about how the sealing works.”
“I wish that these rules were part of the public handbook. When you choose to get married civilly, you can research the laws of your state and country to understand with whom you can get married and what steps have to be taken if you are divorced, etc. But there is no easy way to do that in the Church.”
“I've found that most of us rely on hearsay when it comes to sealing practices, and we usually only know particulars as they come up in our own lives and we have to deal with it head on.”
“It makes me wonder how much God is actually involved in these decisions and how much comes from Church leaders. Like with the case of George and Sarah it feels like they said, "Well, we see the need for women to be able to be sealed to more than [one] husband, but we aren't comfortable with giving them all the same opportunities as men, so here is the compromise!" Whatever. God's house is a house of order, not of confusion, and frankly, this is all very confusing. Add to that the fact that the majority of Church members don't know about this means that something is most definitely awry.”
“I knew about these practices, but only because I ‘snooped’ through Handbook 1 (being that I am not one of the nine women who currently have access).”
“I was mostly surprised to learn that deceased women can be sealed to multiple men. I also didn't know a couple's child could be automatically sealed to her mother's ex-husband or deceased husband. Most meaningfully, I find it interesting that President Faust's comments suggest that multiple sealings may [connote] agency in the resurrection, [rather than guaranteed] celestial polygamous marriages. That is all new to me, which is surprising because I grew up hearing about Church policy regarding sealings and polygamy.”
Living life in fear
Another theme that emerged concerned women’s fears in entering into marriage considering what would happen to them and their children in the event of a death or divorce. This fear and anxiety is felt deeply, as these comments indicate:
“I hate to think that if my fiancé dies a week after we're married and I eventually find someone else and marry him and have children with him, that I’d not be able to be sealed to my second spouse or children in this life. We teach so much about families being together forever, and yet my children would have to grow up knowing theirs isn't an eternal family. [At least] not yet. I think women [whose] husbands die should be able to be sealed to their second spouse while still living, just as men are. I also think divorced women should be able to also.”
“In the weeks before I got married, I struggled with this feeling of being lesser within the covenant due to this and a couple other things that occur in the temple, as well as due to the cultural perceptions of the church. My husband sympathized, but [our] only solutions were to live in sin (which neither of us was very keen on), get married civilly (which meant we wouldn't be forever), or just to take a deep breath and trust that it would be okay. I read a lot of conference talks looking for comfort, and found some, but not a lot. When someone in one of my institute classes asked about how it could possibly be fair and claimed she couldn't be happy if she shared her husband, our teacher answered that our Heavenly Father would never put us in a situation where we would be eternally unhappy if we had earned the right to go to the Celestial Kingdom. [I like this idea], but it still doesn't solve the issue.”
“I find this discrepancy in sealing extremely perplexing. It also fills me with anxiety to think that should I experience an untimely death, my husband might get sealed to another wife. Of course I would want him to remarry for my children and the companionship it would provide him, but the thought of sharing my husband for eternity undermines everything I love about my marriage.”
“While I have faith that it will all be worked out in the end (whether in this life or after), I get very anxious and sad when I think about what would happen if my husband died before me and I chose to marry and be sealed to another man. I don't even know how it would all work out as far as me being sealed to both men or just one, before or after I die. And adding children with one or both husbands would complicate things further, whether I am alive or dead. I did not know before I read the SquareTwo article that deceased women have more agency in regards to who they will be sealed to than living women. This does provide some comfort that these types of situations will be sorted out. I've found myself wanting to make my husband promise me that, in the far-fetched occasion that we would have to choose which one of us dies first, that he would let me die so that we for sure would be sealed, even if he married again after.”
Some of the most moving comments came from those who themselves—or whose loved ones—had faced the heartbreak resulting from the differences in sealing practice. Furthermore, in some of these instances, bishops and stake presidents seemed to feel more concern for the situation of the man in the sealing predicament than for the situation of the woman, even urging men to refuse to marry previously sealed women. These stories are very difficult to read, yet read them we must:
“The plight of a young woman in her early twenties who was sealed in the temple. Within a few weeks, she was expecting their first child. Shortly fter--three months into her forever marriage,--her husband was suddenly killed in an accident. Even though she was a very pretty woman, men of her own age would not date her because she was already sealed. Several years later, she married a man whose first sealed wife had passed away, leaving him to raise three young children. Together they had four more children, but she remains sealed to the first husband. She dearly loves both husbands and cannot imagine choosing between them. Her [current] husband of many years is devoted to her and wishes to be sealed to her.”
“I have been discouraged and hurt by the differences in sealing rules between men and women for years. It seems to truly make women less than men [and more] like their possession. I have friends [who] have [had] to approach an abusive first husband. Those men should have no control over these women. I am a widow. I miss and love my husband but I cannot see why I should not have the opportunity to find companionship and another ‘eternal companion’ as do men.”
“A dear friend who never married but gave birth to her daughter as a teenager left the Church recently. The fact that there is no way for her daughter to ever be sealed to her was a hurdle she ultimately could never overcome. I ache for her and the feelings of unworthiness she felt, 30+ years after her original sin, after decades of faithful living and service.”
“I was a young, unsealed widow. It was disturbing to me when I began dating how often LDS men asked me about my sealed/unsealed status. It gave me pause that my unsealed status made me a more desirable partner than I would have been had I been sealed to my first husband, whereas I assumed that a widow who was sealed to her first husband would represent a more faithful and righteous potential partner. I was forced to make the agonizing decision either to be sealed to the love of my life and father of my child or to remain unsealed so that I could later be sealed to a then-unknown partner. Despite [this] being an agonizing decision, I was grateful that I at least had a choice. Yet again, I felt confused that I was being blessed with options that I would not have had if I had followed the prescribed, righteous path and been a sealed woman when widowed. Had I done things the ‘right’ way, I would have had no choice. (Aso, it was not lost on me that not only would a man never be forced to make such a heart-wrenching decision if he lost the love of his life through death, but that he would also be perfectly able to discard his first wife through divorce, remain sealed to her, and be sealed to another woman months later. The more the merrier.). Further complicating my decision was the murkiness surrounding the current ‘rules’ and consequences of sealings. My biggest concern was that I be sealed to all of my children, both my daughter and the yet unborn children I hoped for. I spoke to multiple bishops about this, and not one ever told me that if I were sealed to my first husband, ALL of my children would be sealed to me (I didn't learn this until years later when I read it online). I hope that they didn't reveal this nugget of crucial information simply because they were unaware of it, yet I can't help but wonder if they identified more with the pain of my then-imaginary second husband who would not be sealed to his own children than they could identify with my pain: that of a real, live woman sitting across from them, [in] pain directly resulting from the imbalance between male and female ordinances. Or perhaps they were just being kind, knowing that my pool of potential LDS partners would evaporate if I were sealed to another man. Ultimately, I decided to wait to be sealed to my next husband, knowing that after we are all dead I can be sealed to my first. . . as long as that policy doesn't change again before we are all dead (cold comfort). After reading this article, I am horrified at the thought that my children—including my first daughter—will not come with me if I end up choosing to be with my original husband (her biological father), for eternity. And I am sad for her, that she doesn't have a choice.”
“The reason I knew about all of these sealing practices is that my 25-year-old daughter—sealed to her husband five years ago—was divorced three years later because he decided he was actually an atheist, had an affair, and [that he] was no longer interested in being married ([marriage] wasn't ‘cool’ in his PhD cohort). I have had reason to research sealing practices so that she understood how to proceed, and also why she will remain sealed to her now ex-husband until she decides to make those covenants with someone else (which was very problematic for her until she understood the reasons). I also had the opportunity to explain why a woman remains sealed even after divorce to a friend who is also divorced, and she was deeply relieved to understand WHY she was still sealed. We need to do a better job of teaching this.”
“I have witnessed the sealing practices lead to several people leaving the Church. In one example, my niece was widowed at a young age (in her twenties). [She] fell in love with a nice Mormon boy and wanted to be sealed. She couldn't. [Even] worse, the bishop warned the man that any children born to the couple would be sealed to the dead husband. He warned him to cancel the wedding. They took this to stake president, who said the same thing. They even talked to a member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles and were told the same thing. The young man canceled the wedding [while] my niece eventually left the Church and married a non-Mormon.”
“The hardest thing about the current sealing practices of the Church is that a widowed woman cannot be sealed in the temple to more than one man. I have a friend going through this right now and it is PAINFUL. She is sealed to her first husband who died four years ago. She is about to be married to a worthy, divorced man who holds a recommend. She deeply desires to be sealed to him as well, but because he is divorced, they cannot even be married for time in the temple. I feel that if the sealing can occur after death, it can occur in life as well. She has made her feelings known to me and let me know that if she were to die unexpectedly, to please make sure the sealing occurred. It doesn't seem right that two worthy people willing to make covenants to each other and with the Lord should have this blessing withheld. [As the article pointed out], it is interesting that the opposite scenario would result in a temple sealing, that is, a divorced woman marrying a widower could be sealed in the temple [with no] problem.”
A Tangential Issue
Another issue that surfaced through this poll was the practice of imposing a five-year ban on divorced persons seeking to be temple ordinance workers:
“One last thing [which] is not quite on topic but related. Are you aware that one has to be divorced for five years before [he or she] can serve as an ordinance worker in the temple? My daughter served as an ordinance worker for about five months (neither she nor her bishop was aware of that rule), and then when it was discovered that she had been divorced, only a year and a half earlier, she was immediately released. It just about killed her, and it has been very difficult for her to feel the [same] peace she had felt in the temple. She feels like she doesn't belong there. First, she was rejected by her husband (there was no indication that he wanted a divorce or that there were even any problems in the marriage—he just told her out of the blue that the marriage was over), then she felt like she somehow wasn't good enough to serve in the temple. We've talked to bishops, stake presidents, temple presidents and even an apostle (she wrote a letter and got a nice but non-specific reply), but have not received any information about why such a policy is in place. I'm sure there's a good reason, but she'd sure like to know what it is!”
To summarize the findings from our admittedly small and biased sample of largely female (79%), centrist LDS members, we found that slightly over 60% of our respondents did not know all of the current LDS sealing practices. Affect towards the current sealing practices was overwhelming negative (86%). Interestingly, among the few positive affect responses (7%), 57% were made by male. Given that only 21% of the sample was male, this means that men were disproportionately represented among those viewing the practices positively.
Among those viewing the practice negatively, prominent themes included:
- Commenters feeling the practices were unfair to women.
- Commenters feeling the practices implied polygyny being practiced in heaven.
- Commenters wondering how these practices—as they more often than not break apart familial bonds rather than create them—help “families be together forever.” Some commenters felt lost and alone, sealed to parents who were no longer sealed to each other.
- Commenters wondering why Church members only learned of these practices when faced with death or divorce, and strongly urged greater education of the membership.
- Commenters describing how they live their lives in fear of death or divorce, simply because they know what mayhem will result in terms of sealing.
- Commenters sharing their anguish and heartbreak at the choices faced by women and by men in their lives, with some feeling that ecclesiastical authorities such as stake presidents and bishops had—in their cases—felt greater empathy for the sealing situation of men as compared to the sealing situation of women.
All in all, it is hard not to conclude, as one commenter expressed, that “something is most definitely awry.” It is devoutly to be hoped that there will be greater light and knowledge given to the leadership and membership of the Church on these issues, allowing for greater confidence that “families can be together forever,” and that men and women stand as equals before the Lord.
 Carol Lynn Pearson has recently written a book about this subject, called The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy, and it can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Eternal-Polygamy-Haunting-Hearts/dp/0997458208 -- [Back to manuscript].
Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2016) "Sealing Practices in the LDS Church; SquareTwo Summer 2016 Readers’ Puzzle," SquareTwo, Vol. 9 No. 3 (Fall 2016), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerSealingPractices.html, accessed <give access date>.
Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 100 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.
I. Kathy Bence
Thank you, Valerie, for these thoughtful articles that share important research about sealing practices and about how members respond to them. The pain caused by these puzzling practices and the doctrine that is their foundation goes beyond your survey and probably indicates the concern of many more than participated.
As your research uncovered, most of us believe (and many of us don’t want to believe) that our sealing practices reflect polygamy will be the marriage pattern in heaven. At the same time, it’s confusing because this concept isn’t taught and we’re led to believe plural marriage has ended; after all, any members practicing plural marriage in this life are ex-communicated. Equally confusing is the Church’s concerted effort to separate itself from the present-day polygamists who are attempting to live a form of marriage that our Church introduced to this country.
Many of the comments express my feelings—I feel discouraged by the plural marriage sealing practices that make a woman feel less valued than a man. We are told we can be equal in power, might and dominion in the eternities (D&C 76:95) but with many women equaling a man, the numbers don’t add up. Although I haven’t done a survey, I suspect that most women share the righteous desire to be the one and ONLY wife of a loving husband. I can’t believe this righteous desire would not be fulfilled as part of the loving gospel plan.
Although D&C 132 was not part of the survey, I’m very uncomfortable reading that section which is, after all, the basis for these sealing practices. Poor Emma is the victim of what must have felt like an unfaithful spouse, yet she’s the one spoken to harshly in D&C 132. Reading that section, Emma seems to be less than human, more like property and she’s threatened with destruction if she doesn’t give up her special relationship with her husband. It’s not a very equitable scenario.
It’s my hope that someday soon the sealing practices and D&C 132 will better reflect the Lord’s concern for his daughters because I don’t believe they do now.