top of page
  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

Eternal and Extended Family

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

“This is the word of the Lord...:

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’

says the Lord Almighty” (Zech. 4:6).

As I’ve mentioned, family is at the center of the LDS Church and its religious practices. Everything is about eternal family. The fact that most of my relatives, including my grandparents on both my dad’s and my mom’s side of the family, were largely inactive members of the LDS Church—either that or “Jack Mormons”—concerned me more and more the older I got. A Jack Mormon is what we called someone whose family or extended family was Mormon but who hadn’t been baptized and “given the gift of the Holy Ghost” when they were eight years old or, in other words, who hadn’t become members of the LDS Church themselves.

I wondered, out of all of my relatives, why my parents and our family were pretty much the only ones who were active in the LDS Church. Whenever I thought about it, it troubled me.

One thing is built upon another in the LDS Church with the apex being eternal family or marriage. From my youth, I was (and all LDS people were) taught that the apostles Peter, James, and John, who had received their authority directly from Jesus while they were living on the earth, appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to confer on them “the priesthood” or “the eternal power and authority of God.”[1][2] What does this have to do with eternal family or marriage? To answer that a little more background is needed.

According to Mormon doctrine, the reason these three apostles had to restore the priesthood was that Jesus’ authority disappeared from the earth after the twelve apostles died; as a result, the Christian church went into apostasy; and so Jesus Christ needed to restore His true church and real authority to earth through Joseph Smith and selected “worthy men.”

An LDS manual entitled Gospel Principles, describes what this means to LDS people:

Our Heavenly Father delegates His priesthood power to worthy male members of the Church. The priesthood enables them to act in God’s name for the salvation of the human family. Through it they can be authorized to preach the gospel, administer the ordinances of salvation, and govern God’s kingdom on earth.[1]

Having the “proper priesthood authority” passed through a line of “worthy priesthood holders” is considered absolutely necessary by the LDS Church to obtain Eternal Life. It is essential for performing the “ordinances of salvation” required to “live in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom of God” or to “be exalted as God is and receive a fulness of joy.”[3] So, finally, what does this have to do with eternal family or marriage?

The most pivotal ordinance required, according to the LDS Church, is temple marriage—also known as being “sealed for time and all eternity” to one’s spouse and children from this union in an LDS temple. I, and all members, were given to understand that without this key ordinance performed in a Mormon temple by someone having the “proper authority,” I, we, would not be able to enjoy Eternal Life as God meant it for us. For me, my family, and all practicing members receiving the ordinance of being “sealed” to one’s spouse was the ultimate of all goals; everything hinged on obtaining and upholding a successful eternal marriage.

It is also delineated in the LDS Gospel Principles manual, that “not only must an eternal marriage be performed by the proper priesthood authority, but ... the [LDS] temple is the only place this holy ordinance can be performed.”[2]

And, in order to enter an LDS temple, LDS Church members “must first meet certain requirements”[2] and be found “worthy” by their bishop or branch president. The requirements were, and still are, outlined by the LDS Church:

Before we can go to the temple, we must be active, worthy members of the Church for at least one year. Men must hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. We must be interviewed by the branch president or bishop. If he finds us worthy, he will give us a temple recommend. If we are not worthy, he will counsel with us and help us set goals to become worthy to go to the temple.

A temple-worthiness interview has “questions like the following... [taken from Gospel Principles]:

1. Do you have faith in and a testimony of God, the Eternal Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost? Do you have a firm testimony of the restored gospel [the “gospel” as “restored through Joseph Smith”]?

2. Do you sustain the [current] President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator? Do you recognize him as the only person on earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?[2]

3. Do you live the law of chastity?

4. Are you a full-tithe payer?

5. Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?

6. Are you honest in your dealings with others?

7. Do you strive to keep the covenants you have made, to attend your sacrament and priesthood meetings, and to keep your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel [or LDS standards and rules]?”[3]

So, not just anyone, even if they are members of the LDS Church can go to a Mormon temple to be sealed to their spouse—including, when after a previous civil marriage should someone convert to the LDS Church.

Those born to sealed parents, as I was, are considered to be “born under the covenant”; and by LDS assessment they are automatically sealed upon birth to their parents and other siblings. And if they all continue to be worthy they will be an eternal family with God in His Kingdom in heaven. If a previously married couple is converted and wants to be sealed to each other, once they have met the requirements, they are generally allowed to also bring with them to the sealing ordinance any children they already have. These children must also, first, meet the worthiness requirements unless they are under the age of eight, or not yet considered “accountable” (or morally responsible for themselves) by the LDS church. Children are included so they can also receive this “ordinance of salvation” and be sealed to their parents and any siblings to become an eternal family.

As a side note: I was so relieved and glad when in 1978 the LDS prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball, after the civil unrest of the ‘60s and ‘70s, received a “revelation” reversing the LDS Church’s previous (1849) “revelation” that had disallowed “men of black African descent” from holding the LDS priesthood.[4] This aspect of LDS Church doctrine had begun to bother me—whenever I thought about it. This “new revelation” eased my worries about my church and my concern for my black brothers and sisters. From then on, worthy “men of black African descent” could hold the priesthood; and black couples and their families could be sealed in the LDS temple and become eternal families and become eligible to “receive the highest glory in the Celestial Kingdom” with God.

My parents met while participating in the “Hill Cumorah Pageant.” A production staged on a hillside, first presented in 1937, and since then presented annually by the LDS Church. The pageant is a reenactment of scenes from The Book of Mormon and of the “restoration of the Gospel in the latter days”[5] through the LDS prophet Joseph Smith.

My dad was then near the end of serving a two-year mission for the LDS Church in the Eastern United States, and my mom was attending BYU. They were both somewhat new converts to the church that had surrounded them growing up. Even though LDS Church doctrines and activities were in the social background for both of my parents growing up, they were not really a part of their own personal lives until they were in their late teens and early twenties. At that time, they both had people in their lives and experiences that strongly influenced and led them to become active members of the LDS Church.

After they met through the pageant in New York, they started writing letters to each other. Not long after my dad returned home from serving his mission for the LDS Church, he and my mom were “sealed for time and all eternity” in the Salt Lake City LDS temple.

Neither set of their parents, my grandparents, were allowed to attend their marriage ceremony or sealing, because none of them had met the requirements for LDS temple attendance. Again, though both my parents grew up in LDS communities, their parents, my grandparents, on both sides, were “inactive,” or generally non-attending, members of the LDS Church.

Every time I heard the story of how my parent met and married, I was so glad and proud they were sealed in an LDS temple, and our family “qualified” to become an eternal family. But alternately, I felt sad and sometimes anxious about my grandparents and relatives. I earnestly wanted all of my relatives to receive and participate in all I believed the LDS Church had to offer, too.

Paradoxically, however, another fruit of this belief as I got older was that I also started to see my family and myself as somehow being more worthy or righteous than my relatives. Often, depending on the talks we heard on a Sunday, I felt the necessity to “call them to repentance” or to try to convince them to become active and temple-worthy and to be sealed in an LDS temple. (We always called it “the” temple—though the LDS temples are nothing like the Tabernacle or Temples of ancient Israel in construction or purpose.) My zealous preachiness in this self-righteous attitude wasn’t very conducive to close relationships with anyone, including my grandparents and relatives. It was antithetical to any kind of eternal relationship.

Another irony is that when it came to be my turn, I, myself, was not initially married or sealed in an LDS temple. Later, I received this ordinance with my husband. I was so sure before the fact that we would return to be sealed in the temple, it was as good as done in my mind. I saw no hypocrisy or lack of righteousness in my actions of being married civilly first. We were sealed less than a year later, with the reluctant, special permission of a General Authority of the LDS Church. (More on this later.)

Many life-changing experiences and years later, the greatest apparent contradiction of all is the actual sealing I have received—not through temple worthiness or by the permission, hands, “keys,” or authority of men but directly from God through Jesus Christ—despite my unworthiness!

With the apostle Paul, who was writing to other believers, I can also affirm: “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:21-22)—redemption and Eternal Life through Christ’s body and blood given by Him on our behalf; “you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12-14); and so “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30).

Now, Jesus Christ—as the Holy Spirit testifies of Him and the Bible witnesses testified of Him through the Holy Spirit—is at the center of my life. And instead of the religious practices that I was relying on, God has given me a living relationship with Him through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. And this He has done, sealing me to Himself (and to all who believe), only because I believe Him about Jesus Christ and have committed my life to Him, to follow Him, and to seek to do His will.[6] His Holy Spirit now dwells in and will always be with me, even though I am not worthy—and never will be—of His gift, His pure grace of Eternal Life through the body and blood and righteousness—worthiness—of Jesus Christ.[7]

Now, everything for me is about trusting God who is always faithful and good through Jesus Christ.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.

A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh,

from the flesh will reap destruction;

whoever sows to please the Spirit,

from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Let us not become weary in doing good,

for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Therefore, as we have opportunity,

let us do good to all people,

especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

(Gal. 6:7-10)


[2] See: Galatians 1:6-9: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”; and 2 Corinthians 11:12-15: “And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” Then see: “Gospel Topics: Restoration of the Priesthood,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,, accessed Nov. 8, 2022.

[6] See John 6:28-30: “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’”

[7] See Titus 3:3-8: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”


bottom of page