On Methodist Weddings, Holy Envy, and Mormon Self-Identity

By November 25, 2007

This previous week, while I was home in Texas for the Thanksgiving holiday, my wife and I attended the wedding of an old friend from high school.  This friend, who grew up a member of the Wesleyan Church, was married at Perkins Chapel (located on Southern Methodist University’s campus at the Perkins School of Theology).  The ceremony was beautiful, and it was fun to see old friends and catch up with each of them.  Much to my wife’s chagrin, though, I couldn’t set aside the aspiring religious scholar in me, and was fascinated with the chapel’s architecture and layout, the wedding liturgy, and everything else. 

The following are a few of my observations.

1.) Latter-day Saints owe much of our musical tradition to the Methodists.  Prior to the beginning of the wedding, I paged through the United Methodist Church Hymnal, searching for hymns also used in the current LDS hymnal.  My brief search yielded 7 common hymns, most by either Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley.

2.) I have holy envy for much of Protestant architecture, as well as the ornamentation of their chapels.  Both the outside architecture and the inside decoration of the Perkins Chapel inspire me more than the typical modern Mormon church building. (I actually envy the entire SMU Campus over that of my current school).

3.) The most notable aspect of the ceremony (to me) was the conspicuous absence of the phrase “till death do you part” (or “as long as you both shall live”) in the recitation of the marital vows.  I am not entirely sure whether the reason for this was a personal choice made by my friend and her new husband, or whether it is typical in Protestant wedding ceremonies.  Having lived in Provo, UT for the better part of the past 6 years, I don’t exactly get invited to many Protestant weddings.  What I am sure of is that although there was no promise of my friend’s marriage lasting throughout eternity, there was not any prescribed limitation of time placed on their union, and thus it did not rule out the possibility of the union continuing into the next life. 

I have regularly heard remarks in LDS circles that it is unfortunate and sad that other Christians view marriage as a union for mortality only.  Assuming that the omission of limitations of time in this wedding ceremony was intentional, I think it presents interesting questions to Mormons and their discourse regarding other Christians’ weddings.


Comments

  1. Chris: Thanks for the summary and the insights. Sorry I missed your text message the other night. I was inside our own beautiful building (incidently built over a century ago), the Salt Lake Temple.

    That is interesting about the lack of the “til death do you part” phrase. I’ve heard that this is becoming less common in Protestant ceremonies, but it’d be nice to know to what extent it survives. It makes me wonder what effect the abandonment of that phrase (if that ever happens) would have on our own ability to define ourselves by what we are not.

    Comment by David Grua — November 25, 2007 @ 8:00 pm

  2. In my experience, the omission of the “til death do you part” (or similar phrasing) from my Protestant friends’ weddings has been a conscious choice made by the couple — it sounds too morbid for such a happy occasion. The vow to obey one’s spouse is also definitely on its way out!

    In either case, at least among the people I know, it’s less about the theology of the wording — theology-wise, it is what it is; eternal unions or the lack thereof aren’t a central tenet so they just don’t think about it one way or the other — than about wanting the perfect romantic fairy tale day. Death and obedience aren’t terribly romantic.

    Comment by RCH — November 25, 2007 @ 8:36 pm

  3. David, thanks for your thoughts. I’d too be interested in the extent to which the phrase survives.

    RCH, interesting thoughts on references to “death” being considered “too morbid for such a happy occasion.” Perhaps I should have stressed, though, that in all other respects the ceremony had an overwhelmingly religious and sacred tone, complete with theologically-drenched and scripturally-based statements. The officiator preached a wonderful sermonette on the nature of Christ’s love, which I found quite spiritually moving. Additionally, my friend is very religious, and I think dismissing the lack of reference to time limitations on the marriage as nothing more than “wanting the perfect romantic fairy tale day” cheapens the sacred nature of the ceremony.

    Comment by Christopher — November 25, 2007 @ 9:07 pm

  4. So far, the comments concerning the lack of a “till death do you part” clause have focused on the limiting of the marriage vows. Was there any mention in the ceremony of how long the vows were in effect? In other words, was there an implied “out” clause wherein either party could choose to end the marriage at will?

    Comment by Jeffrey Cannon — November 25, 2007 @ 9:33 pm

  5. Jeffrey, there was no mention of an “out” clause of any sort, nor was there any reference to the length of the marriage. The officiator did, however, recite Matthew 19:6 (“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”), which seemed to me an expression of anti-divorce sentiment.

    Comment by Christopher — November 25, 2007 @ 9:50 pm

  6. Thanks for the post. I’ve often wondered where the phrase originated in the first place.

    Comment by aquinas — November 25, 2007 @ 10:08 pm

  7. I know people who have omitted the “death” clause for three very different reasons – two that have been mentioned explicitly already and one that only has been implied:

    1) They believed that their marriage would last past death, despite the official creeds of their religion. (Quite a few fit this category.)

    2) They had a degree of religious commitment and didn’t want to make a promise “before God” they might not be able to keep. (Only a couple fit here.)

    3) They simply didn’t think about it – or, if they did, didn’t like the wording. (The vast majority fit this category.)

    I think it is fascinating how much of Mormon theology is beginning to creep into the beliefs of many Protestants. When I traveled the rural backroads of OH, PA and WV a few years ago on a regular basis, I often listened to the local religious radio programming (since I didn’t want to hear about the cost of each and every imaginable grain and vegetable), and I would hear some version of a Restored Gospel principle (including Family Home Evening) at least monthly – from ministers who regularly spend time bashing Mormonism.

    I loved the irony.

    Comment by Ray — November 26, 2007 @ 1:32 am

  8. I came across an interesting page of vows posted on the webpage for the Central United Methodist Church in Phoenix. The ceremony is broken down into parts, allowing the prospective bride/groom room to blend traditional and more contemporary elements.

    Comment by Justin — November 26, 2007 @ 10:51 am

  9. Ray’s post reminded me that this is not the only convergence between us and our Protestant friends. David Paulsen’s recent BYU Studies Article “Are Christians Mormon? Reassessing Joseph Smith’s Theology in his Bicentennial” points out sever other similarities. I doubt that the convergences are because they are meaning to copy us, but it is rather a progressive theological thought moving in our direction.

    Comment by Ben — November 26, 2007 @ 12:42 pm

  10. I didn’t mean to say/imply that people who leave the phrase out are less religious, or less concerned with theology generally (some are and some aren’t; my friends run the gamut) (and I am only speaking to my own experience with the people I know and the churches I’ve attended, of course). Just that for Mormons, marriage beyond the bounds of death is a huge theological deal with tons of air time — while for others, it isn’t. The mortal limitations of marriage simply aren’t something that get much focus or discussion.

    I think sometimes we, as Mormons, want other denominations to hammer on it because, as the first commenter posted, it helps us define ourselves by what we are not. But the fact that Protestants don’t think to answer distinctly Mormon concerns in their marriage ceremonies certainly doesn’t make them less spiritual, special, or sacred. It just makes them, well, Protestant instead of LDS.

    In other news, I’m definitely with you on the holy envy of others’ religious architecture. Though I tend to covet Catholic cathedrals more than Protestant ones. I’m kind of over-the-top like that, lol.

    Comment by RCH — November 26, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

  11. RCH: I think you raise a good point in that LDS (like all groups) define themselves by what they think they are not. Often times the way we construct “others” is simply a caricature of what they [other Christians] truly are.

    Comment by David Grua — November 26, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

  12. RCH, thanks for the clarification. And I think you and David both bring up a great point about Mormonism defining itself by what it is not. I imagine the effect of Protestantism abandoning the phrase (if that is, in fact, the direction they are heading) would force Mormons to reconsider how they narrate the difference between a Temple sealing “for time and all eternity” and a Protestant wedding “for as long as [they] both shall live.” The likely result would be an emphasis on the validity of Mormon eternal marriages/sealings because of Priesthood authority.

    Regarding Christian architecture, I also envy Catholic Cathedrals, but still favor more simplistic 19th-century Protestant chapels. I should also clarify that I am no fan of modern megachurches.

    Comment by Christopher — November 26, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  13. Incidentally, if you google image “megachurch”, the first image that pops up is the LDS Conference Center. Yikes.

    Comment by Christopher — November 26, 2007 @ 1:31 pm

  14. What, you don’t like Joel Olsteen’s digs in the former basketball arena for the Houston Rockets? I’ve got fond memories of that place!

    I did the google search for megachurch, and sure enough the Conference Center is number one and appears a couple of times on the first page. But it doesn’t look like the folks putting that image on their site even realize that it’s a Mormon, as opposed to an evangelical, building.

    Comment by David Grua — November 27, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

  15. Chris: I agree that the likely move would be toward emphasizing the authority to seal unions beyond the grave, as opposed to the current emphasis on the notion itself that families can be together forever.

    Comment by David Grua — November 27, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

  16. I have a friend who claims that despite the theology of their religions, the idea that marriage extends into the next life is a favorite private heresy of many protestants and evangelicals. He listed a couple of others, but that one stuck out in my mind.

    Chris, I share your pain/embarrassment of our architecture. Our buildings, other than the temples, are primarily utilitarian, not to be attractive. I know it’s a cost savings effort, and understand the reasons, but the pictures of the Perkins chapel truly show a beautiful and inspiring building.

    Comment by kevinf — November 27, 2007 @ 1:27 pm

  17. kevinf, do you mind sharing what particular denomination (if any) your friend belongs to? I imagine the frustration over modern LDS architecture is more widespread than you and me. And while I agree that our temples still are somewhat aesthetically pleasing, I would argue that they are becoming increasingly utilitarian and less decorative.

    Mr. Grua, if the Texas megachurch you reference was located 250 miles to the north in Dallas at the Mavericks’ old arena, then I might be okay with it. I think the fact that people so easily confuse the Conference Center with a megachurch highlights my frustration perfectly.

    Comment by Christopher — November 27, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

  18. I agree that the likely move would be toward emphasizing the authority to seal unions beyond the grave, as opposed to the current emphasis on the notion itself that families can be together forever.

    I am curious if anyone else thinks differently. Are there other directions this shift might change how Mormons define themselves?

    Comment by Christopher — November 27, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

  19. Chris: If I had to choose between the two as my new church building, I think hands down I’d pick the Compaq Center.

    Comment by David Grua — November 27, 2007 @ 2:16 pm

  20. Fair enough. Though I prefer the architecture of the Mavericks’ new arena to that of the Rockets’ new arena.

    Comment by Christopher — November 27, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

  21. Christopher, sorry to burst your bubble, but he is LDS, with long experience in civic and professional circles where he has been a great member missionary. Anecdotal at best, and maybe not as much fun as if he had been Southern Baptist, but there you are.

    Comment by kevinf — November 27, 2007 @ 4:27 pm

  22. […] a recent post, I mentioned that a google image search for “megachurch” produced an image of the interior of […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » A Mormon Megachurch? Or where is Truman O. Angell when you need him? — December 3, 2007 @ 3:40 am

  23. […] recent posts “On Methodist Weddings, Holy Envy, and Mormon Self-Identity” and “A Mormon Megachurch? Or where is Truman O. Angell when you need him?” have opened […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » From the Center to the Periphery: The Place of Sacrament Tables in Mormon Worship Space — December 12, 2007 @ 3:06 pm


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