The Hope of Resurrection: Personal and Political
That is what the LDS doctrine of sealing is about: we can be sealed to one another as family, and each family to another ad infinitum, creating a web that potentially includes all of humanity and has God at its center. The promise is that the relationship I have with my spouse and our children is a relationship that can be duplicated endlessly with other persons in the presence of God.
For Mormons, baptism is required of the individual. It initiates us into the community of God in an act in which we imitate the death of Christ and his resurrection and anticipate our own death and resurrection. And in that imitation and anticipation we are born anew in the world, living representations of the possibility and expectation of human renewal.
In our temples we have another rite, sealing, which stands at the highest point of our liturgical practices. We are sealed to one another as husbands and wives. Children are sealed to parents. And we act as proxy for our deceased ancestors, sealing them to each other and to ourselves.
In being sealed to one another we are born yet anew, this time not as mere individuals but as part of a family that extends outward to Zion, the divine community. Sealing is the rite by which we imitate and anticipate the renewal of human society.
We have understood Joseph Smith's teaching about sealing differently over time. Our 19th-century practice of polygamy was one of its manifestations. Early on we often sealed outside of family lines, but for some time we have been asked not to do so. There may yet be new things for us to learn about how to make the most sense of the sealing ritual.
Continuing revelation, another fundamental principle of Mormonism, means that we are always in medeas res, always working things out and receiving more light and knowledge. The ways we go about instantiating our utopic hope to live in a resurrected society are likely to change over time, but the principle will remain the same: by being sealed we come into faith-covenant with each other and God in order to recognize and create bonds of fidelity among all the children of God.
It is tempting to say that Mormonism turns out, therefore, to be a political order. It is an order of those in the fallen world who expectantly and patiently hope for the resurrection of the polis, the communal body, as well as of the personal body. There is good reason to think that way, though if Mormonism is a political order, it is certainly not one of the sort we find in contemporary politics.
But I think it is better to say that though Mormonism is absolutely political, in the oldest sense, it is at the same time more than political. To steal (and twist) a phrase from Giorgio Agamben, the basis of the resurrected community anticipated by Mormonism "is not a text, but the very life of the messianic community, not a writing, but a form of life . . . " (The Time That Remains, 122).
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.