#RNA2012: Outside a Mormon temple wedding

In a couple of recent posts — here and here — I’ve already highlighted some of the excellent Godbeat journalism that claimed prizes in the Religion Newswriters Association’s annual awards contest.

If you haven’t checked out the winning entries, I’d encourage you to do so. For regular readers of GetReligion, many of the honorees’ names will read like a who’s who in religion news. Among those names: Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi of CNN’s Belief Blog, David Gibson of Religion News Service and Tom Breen (formerly) of The Associated Press.

Another familiar name from the Godbeat: Peggy Fletcher Stack of The Salt Lake Tribune. 

This past weekend, Stack was busy covering the 182nd annual LDS General Conference, so she didn’t actually make it to the RNA annual conference in Bethesda, Md., just outside the nation’s capital. But she was recognized as the Cornell Religion Reporter of the Year, which honors religion writers for the nation’s mid-sized newspapers.

Stack produced a truly fascinating story on Mormon weddings dividing families when some loved ones are forced to wait outside the temple. The top of the story, which I missed when it was published in June 2011:

You see them on Salt Lake City’s Temple Square nearly every day. They pace nervously or stroll aimlessly, staring down at the tulips or up at the spires.

They are nottourists or templegoers. They are parents, siblings, cousins and friends of Mormon couples being wed inside the LDS sanctuary. But, for one reason or another, they are not allowed to view the ceremony.

Maybe they are Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish or atheist. Perhaps they once were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Or maybe they are current Mormons who fail to meet all the faith’s belief and behavior standards for a “recommend” to enter into the temple.

Stack demonstrates her expertise on Mormonism with a story that provides theological insight and historical background. At the same time, she writes in a way that makes sense even to a reader not as well versed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She quotes a variety of sources, from church spokesmen to those who have married inside the temple — without certain key relatives joining them.

Moreover, Stack places the weddings in the context of a changing society:

Part of the problem has emerged in recent years as society has moved weddings from the sacred to the secular, says Brigham Young University sociologist Marie Cornwall. Marriage was once a church-centered celebration, given that most people’s religious and secular communities were the same. Now they
aren’t.

Many of today’s weddings no longer are seen as a holy event before God and witnesses, she says, but rather as a chance to bring everyone together to celebrate the newlyweds.

“Everyone now has relatives who are not religious,” she says. “So weddings have become more and more part of the market. Couples are spending huge amounts of money for celebrations to include all their friends.”

When I clicked the link to Stack’s winning entry, I couldn’t stop reading, which is always a good sign.

Congratulations to Stack and the rest of the RNA winners!

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Darren Blair

    As an actual Mormon, there’s something else that some people don’t consider when it comes to who does and doesn’t go inside the temple – logistics.

    You’d be surprised how small some temples can be on the interior. They might look large on the outside, but there’s so much going on on the inside that some of the individual rooms can be pretty tiny.
    Space is even more of an issue in the so-called “mini-temples”, temples constructed at a fraction of the size so that they can be placed in areas that have a strong membership but otherwise wouldn’t have the numbers to justify a full-sized temple. For example, the temple in Lubbock (Texas) is so small that when I was there for the open house you could see the baptismal font from inside the front foyer.

    As a result of the space issue, even close family and friends who have temple recommends often don’t make it inside.
    In exchange, Mormon receptions are often surprisingly huge; when one of my brothers was married, we had to have two separate receptions (one in Utah where my sister-in-law is from, and one down here in Texas) in order to provide for everyone.

  • Taylor

    It is so bizarre that as society places less and less emphasis on marriage it nevertheless puts more and more emphasis on weddings.

    And as Darren noted, the real party for Mormons is at the reception. In some cases there is even a ring ceremony (since an exchange of rings in not part of the official wedding ceremony in the Temple) which is intended to give those who are left out of the temple the chance to participate in something they see as more of a traditional wedding.

  • Kris D

    That was a great quote from Marie Cornwall concerning moving weddings from the sacred to the secular. I am Catholic & was the wedding coordinator at my church for about 5 years. The number of questions & complaints from the wedding party & guests (the ceremony is so long!, will I have to kneel?, can’t we just skip Communion? Can I take my Starbucks into church?) boggled the mind. Many of these people just wanted to get to the reception after a 15 minute quicke ceremony. BTW, my father’s side of the family is LDS & I fully respect what their church requires as far as Temple recommends.

  • sari

    Terrific article. Explains just enough and includes interviews from many sides of the fence. Followers of any religion with non-negotiable parameters encounter similar issues when planning life cycle and other events. Clearly there’s a big difference between the solemnity of a religious ceremony and the party that follows, yet the emphasis seems to be reversed when trying to accommodate everybody.

  • Meg

    It would be nice if someone had been asked why things are different now than they were in the past (as with the description of the Romneys’ wedding).

  • suburbanbanshee

    If you’re Catholic and your Catholic loved one has become Mormon, you’re not supposed to be going to the Mormon wedding anyway. There’s some pastoral leeway on that point, and the canon law has fluctuated a bit over the years, but the current code says that baptized Catholics always remain Catholic in the eyes of canon law, and non-Catholic weddings don’t count between a Catholic and a non-Catholic. (Unless you also have a Catholic wedding, or you get special permission from your Catholic bishop. Which obviously this Temple scenario isn’t envisioning.)

    Now, if you’re Catholic and your loved ones have always been Mormon, attending a Mormon wedding would be okay for the Catholic; but if the Mormon side of the equation is set up differently, it’s not really fair for Catholics to complain, because Catholics follow an initiatory religion also.


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