Recently I did an endowment session at the temple for the first time since March of last year. I started last year with a goal of attending every week, but as news of something called a coronavirus became prominent, I had already decided to stop attending a couple weeks before every temple in the world was closed. Then as they gradually reopened, I didn't feel like trying to get one of the very limited appointments so I could go sit in a room with people who were probably unvaccinated. After the First Presidency implemented a mask mandate in all temples and the one in Logan, Utah doubled its capacity, I was able to go on Thursday.
My testimony of temples and their ordinances stems from three experiences. First, while being confirmed for some dead people, I felt a presence that felt like the Holy Ghost, except that it was in the shape of a person and occupied a space in front of me and to the left, and I felt it reach out and touch me on the arm before it disappeared. Second, I talked to a woman in the baptistry who may or may not have been one of my deceased ancestors, because her last name was Nicholson and she recognized me while I had no memory of her or the previous conversation she claimed we'd had about family history. Then last year while the temple was only open for live sealings, I felt like walking over one morning, and the moment I sat down on the grounds I felt flooding into me an overwhelming response to a prayer I'd made a couple times during the week. It was almost a visionary experience. I hope to go into more detail about it someday after it comes to fruition.
I've never had anything like that actually inside the temple, where instead I would sit in the celestial room wondering, "If I sit here for five more minutes, will I receive revelation? Ten more minutes? What if I leave right when I was about to receive revelation?" So as much as I would have hoped that my first time doing an endowment session in twenty months would be something spectacular, it wasn't. I felt good there. I felt like some aspects of the ceremony were still weird or insultingly simple. I didn't notice any revelation. But I felt good. I took a picture on the way out.
That evening I second-guessed, not for the first time, whether this theology with its teachings and temple ordinances that all revolve around eternal marriage and parenthood is even compatible with me. I don't seem to fit very well into this one-size fits all plan of happiness that's supposed to apply to everyone. And even with the increased awareness and compassion for LGBTQ+ members, I doubt anyone in leadership recognizes that people like me exist. The one and only time an official church channel has come close to acknowledging that people like me exist was last year when an article by the Ensign staff acknowledged that "Most of us experience sexual feelings as part of our mortal experience." (emphasis added) That's it. I latched onto that little crumb of recognition because it was unprecedented. If God made the plan of salvation and exaltation, and then God made me the way I am, and then God left me with zero ecclesiastical support, I have serious questions as to why.
I don't have a testimony that heterosexual marriage is a requirement for the highest level of heaven. I don't have strong feelings about anyone else's non-abusive marriage. I don't care if someone marries a man, a woman, twelve women, a goat, a train station, themself, or whatever. If God does, that's His problem. I can't relate to people who feel really personally invested in the sanctity of the principle of "marriage between a man and a woman" above and beyond their own lifestyle preference. I've come to realize, however, that I do have a testimony of the importance of eternal marriage. That is to say, I'm absolutely certain with regard to marriage that, as Bender Bending Rodriguez would say, "Anything less than immortality is a complete waste of time." This testimony of mine first came out when I saw a post in my Facebook news feed, from a page called GodVine, about whether or not marriage exists in heaven. I didn't bother to read the article, I just took notice of the overwhelming majority of commenters asserting with obnoxious Christian dogmatism that it does not. I'll be the first to acknowledge that my reaction was ruder than it needed to be.
Me: Then what the hell is the point of marriage?
Person 1: For procreation.
Me: News flash, you can have kids without being married.
Person 2: But it's a sin if you aren't.
Person 3: You sound like you need Jesus.
I couldn't argue with that, because I do, in fact, need Jesus, so I let the matter drop. But I've seen this over and over again, as for some reason GodVine keeps posting about it, and it drives me crazy. Billions of species for billions of years have procreated just fine, but in order for humans to do it without sinning, God needed to institute a social contract that ends at death and has zero significance beyond this world? That any affectionate feelings existing between spouses will likewise cease to exist as they're too busy worshiping God forever to care about the loss? I personally don't find such a theology compelling or worthy of belief. It's also quite the divine middle finger to infertile couples, who, as I mentioned last week, aren't even rare.
Even with its eternal nature, many (most?) members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also believe that marriage is all about procreation. On my more cynical days I feel like the Church just wants me to marry anyone who has a womb. It does teach that eternally married couples can continue having children forever, but spirit children, like our Heavenly Parents do now with the spirit children being us. Many believe that the process for making spirit babies is the same as the process for making earthly babies. I didn't believe that when I thought it was just an assumption people made, but after learning that it was taught by Brigham Young, I believe it even less. Theologically, scientifically, and logistically, I find the concept as absurd as it is grotesque. And as often as not it leads members to conclude that we'll all practice polygamy in heaven, because they think a man impregnating women 108 billion times is less absurd than a woman being pregnant 108 billion times. Color me repulsed either way.
I'll grant that having children is a purpose of marriage. But again, because the latter is in no way a prerequisite to the former, I don't believe it's the purpose. At its core, I believe it has a lot more to do with two imperfect people growing together, learning to compromise and sacrifice and tolerate each other, and developing Christlike attributes in ways that neither could alone. And it makes intuitive sense to me that men and women could have complementary differences to facilitate that process - but what those differences might be, I couldn't say, because no conceivable generalization about men's brains or women's personalities will hold true one hundred percent of the time. Long after forgetting everything else he said, this statement by a local institute teacher has stuck with me: "We have these stereotypes in the Church of 'Men are like this and women are like this,' and sometimes they're true and often they're not." Boom.
Anyway, these are questions and concerns that I have, which I want to be transparent about, and in lieu of actual answers to wrap this post up all nice and tidy on an uplifting note, I'll just reiterate that I do have a testimony of temples and that if and when I get married it had better last forever or it won't be worth the trouble by a long shot.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.