Dos & Don’ts for Mormon Bishops Performing a Civil Marriage
It’s understandable that a Mormon bishop can be in a difficult situation while performing a civil marriage. While the occasion is supposed to be joyous and celebratory, as bishop, he is “a judge in Israel,” so surely the pressure to encourage an eventual temple marriage weighs heavily on him. And maybe a temple sealing is in the couple’s plan, or maybe it isn’t. In the last few civil weddings I attended, the LDS bishops performing the marriages emphasized temples and repentance to the point that many guests exchanged glances of slight discomfort, as if to say, “Really? Right now?” Granted, not all bishops do this; and even some couples and audiences might not be bothered by a speech like this.
However, a wedding is a wedding.
What I mean by that is, weddings are supposed to be happy, filled with warm feelings of love, and when you remember it years later, you should have joyous memories of the first day two people publicly committed to love and care for each other as one. No one wants to remember a wedding as the day the bishop kept reminding them to repent. Again, I know this can be a sensitive subject, but I’m sure even bishops are sometimes at a loss as how to conduct a wedding ceremony that is memorable and touching while affirming gospel ideals. At the end of the day, he’s just a guy called to temporarily fill this role as bishop.
So, with that in mind, and wedding season in full bloom, here’s my list of Dos and Don’ts for bishops who are preparing to perform a civil wedding:
DO get to know the couple. Whether it be a pair in your ward that you know well or not, or a distant niece whose wedding you are being asked to perform, take some time to get to know the couple. The audience will appreciate any nuggets of their love story scattered throughout your speech. Bride and groom will likewise appreciate the personal touches.
DON’T assume they have their temple sealing planned and decided. Everyone’s situation is different. Perhaps the civil marriage was decided upon to allow more family to participate in the event. Perhaps asking a bishop was a way to appease the family who all expected it to be in the temple. Again, knowing the couple well can help determine how and/or if the subject of temple marriage should be approached during the ceremony.
DO talk about the mushy, lovey-dovey stuff. If you can’t be mushy at a wedding, when can you be?! Talk about how beautiful and special it is to find someone to marry, to wake up to every day, and to grow old with. It is a relief and a wonder to find a person to support you, to laugh with you, and to cry with you. Marriages might happen all the time, but that doesn’t make it less special that two people are making a promise to love each other forever.
DO embrace that you are a religious leader. Don’t avoid scriptures or spiritual references. There are some beautiful sentences in the scriptures about marriage. I could probably write a three-page paper about the verb “to cleave” (See Genesis 2:24, D&C 42:22). There are also some wise words from past prophets and even old Ensign articles. Here is a great quote from Spencer W. Kimball: “The love of which the Lord speaks is not only physical attraction, but also faith, confidence, understanding, and partnership. It is devotion and companionship, parenthood, common ideals and standards. It is cleanliness of life and sacrifice and unselfishness. This kind of love never tires nor wanes. It lives on through sickness and sorrow, through prosperity and privation, through accomplishment and disappointment, through time and eternity” (quoted by Lynn G. Robbins in “Agency And Love In Marriage”, Ensign, Oct 2000). Doesn’t that just melt your heart a little bit?
DON’T exclusively speak in LDS terms. While scriptural references are expected and welcome, it probably shouldn’t be your only source of material. This article is one of the best things I’ve read about relationships, and it’s from Business Insider (?!). The advice is super simple: BE NICE. Using some variety in your sources to add meaningful advice or stories can show your thought and consideration toward the couple. Likewise, in knowing the couple, you will know their audience.
DO show your excitement and happiness for the couple. I have seen bishops so nervous (understandably so) or preachy at a wedding that it seems they have completely forgotten that weddings are a celebration of LOVE!
The bottom line is focus on love and happiness. Choose remarks that will add to the celebration, and not comments that diminish the couple’s decision to get married civilly.
Happy wedding season, everyone!