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April 7th, 2012
08:48 AM ET

Taking a rare tour of a Mormon temple

By Eric Marrapodi and Brian Todd, CNN

Kansas City, Missouri (CNN) – Elder William Walker slipped white booties over his black wing-tip shoes and instructed his guests to do the same as he led them into the newest Mormon temple in the world.

This day was the first chance the public had to see inside the sacred space for the area’s 49,000 Mormons, and it was also one of the last.

On May 6, when Thomas S. Monson, the head of the 14 million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, dedicates this temple, the doors will close forever to the public. The church said it expects as many as 100,000 visitors in Kansas City before the temple will be closed to the public.

After that, only temple-recommended Mormons will be able to walk through the heavy wooden and stained-glass doors.

“This is a sacred space, set apart place for only those who are devout followers of the faith,” Walker said.

For Mormons, temples serve as places of contemplation, instruction and worship experiences, like weddings and posthumous baptisms.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

The 67-year-old Walker is the executive director of the Temple Department, and he is the point man for the church’s 137 temples.

Walker is a top official in the LDS church as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and he reports directly to Monson. The Canadian-born hockey fanatic has been a lifelong member of the church. He graduated from Brigham Young University, served a Mormon mission to Japan and spent time in the private sector working in securities and investment banking before being called to serve the church full-time in 2002.

Kansas City’s temple is the latest to open. The church has announced it will build 29 temples across five continents. Construction is under way in Paris and Rome, and temples are planned for Peru and South Africa.

“We’re building temples where the church is grown and have a concentration of members,” he said.

Outside the new Mormon temple in Kansas City, Missouri.

Inside the temple the required first stop is the Recommend Desk. After the dedication, only Mormons who have a recommend card are able to enter and participate in worship. The personalized cards are given by local church leaders to adherents who profess to be living in accordance with church teachings.

As he explained the process, Walker reached into his wallet, pushed his Utah driver’s license aside and pulled out his recommend card, which was endorsed by Monson, his bishop. Walker said his credit-card-sized recommend card, like all others, is only good for two years.

CNN was invited by church officials to tour the temple with Walker before its dedication. The church denied CNN's request to film inside the space, saying it was against church policy. The LDS church provided still images after the tour, which accurately depicted key parts of the temple. In a rare move, CNN was permitted to film inside the front of the temple at the Recommend Desk, but no farther.

"It's not about secret. It's about sacred,” Walker said after the tour, making what the church sees as a key distinction. “We feel that it's a very sacred and special place and therefore it is reserved for those worship functions and those ordinances that take place in the temple. It's not about secret."

Walker said the policy is not unlike that for Shinto shrines in Japan, where he served his mission.

But it's a thin line between sacred and secret. Public tours of the temple are only available when they are first built or undergo massive renovations. After that, outsiders and Mormons who are not temple recommended are kept out, even from wedding ceremonies.

In the sealing room, where eternal weddings take place, Walker points out the altar at the center of the room. The bride and groom kneel facing each other and the officiant stands off to the side. The room is richly decorated with Swarovski crystal chandeliers and massive gilded mirrors on either side of the room, and Walker raves about the design on the white carpet, carefully explaining how local artisans cut the meticulous pattern by hand.

Despite the grand size of the building, each room is small: This is the biggest of the three sealing rooms, and its capacity is just 49 people.

Guests are welcome at Sunday worship at one of the church’s 18,000 meeting houses, Walker is quick to note. The temple, he observes, “is a sacred, special place that’s unique. There are only 137 of these temples in all the world.”

The temple also contains a gleaming baptismal font. Though it’s a point of pride for Mormons, it has been controversial elsewhere. A church ceremony called “proxy baptisms” by Mormons includes posthumous baptisms of Jews, some of whom have protested the practice.

The baptismal font at the newest Mormon temple.

However, in Mormon doctrine, baptism is essential for salvation. While converts to the faith are baptized in services at local wards, the weekly meeting place for services open to the public, proxy baptisms take place only in the temple and in private.

The proxy baptisms are supposed to be for Mormons’ ancestors who were not of the faith. Walker said the baptism serves as an invitation to accept Mormonism as an avenue into heaven.

Explainer: How and why do Mormons baptize the dead?

At the temple, Walker took his visitors through the process as it is supposed to work.

The font rests on 12 oxen, which he said represent the tribes of Israel.

Adherents change into white gowns he jokingly referred to as "jumpsuits," provided by the temple. A male priest leads the proxy into the waist-high water, gives the blessing and the name of the ancestor, then the proxy is lowered into the water, fully immersed, then brought up to the surface. The desk next to the font has a small monitor and a light. That person's job is to record the act for the church's central database.

When the temple begins operation, Walker said, this is a scene that will play out “hundreds of times a day.”

But some Mormons have used the church’s extensive genealogy database to baptize others who are not Mormon ancestors, such as the murdered Jewish reporter Daniel Pearl and holocaust victims like Anne Frank. It’s a practice that has outraged Jewish leaders.

“When people violate the church policy of doing baptisms for those who our leaders have said we’re not going to do that, they’re acting on their own in contradiction of church policy,” he said. “We’re unhappy about that. We love our Jewish friends. We don’t want to offend them or anyone else by our religious practices.”

“We’re sorry. We live by our word and when we say we’re going to do something, we’re going to try and do it,” Walker said.

He promised disciplinary action.

“We’re now tracking those who’ve done this contrary to church policy and we’re going to shut down their access to the church’s database, Family Search, so they can’t do this.”

He acknowledges interest in proxy baptisms, and other Mormon practices, has spiked thanks to Mormon Mitt Romney’s run for president.

While the church takes no position on party politics nor allows its officials to endorse candidates, Walker can see some good coming out of Romney's run for the White House.

“I think it’s perfectly understandable people who are considering him would want to know more about the church he espouses,” he said. “In many ways it may be a good thing that people will want to know more. Maybe some of the old ideas about the church that have persisted in American culture can change.”

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Content Partner • Faith Now • TV-The Situation Room

soundoff (4,366 Responses)
  1. Ignorance is not healthy for children and other living things

    folly

    April 7, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      otherwise known as hinduism, in Latin.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Jesus is a corruption of Hebrew word Easu, anointed one from Hebrew word Anyat, a blessing from higher authority, letter J is added to make him a Jew, self centered, but he was a Hebrew, dedicated to truth absolute, 360*, letter A is added to conform it to hindu, pagan trinity, and letter s is added to show, respect by Hebrew principled. word Jesus is not a word of any language but hinduism, fabrication of hindu's crooks of Egypt, nor any one ever existed by this name in history. A cult led by hindu's crooks.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  2. Lilarose1941

    Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! What do you think of all of this, Jesus? Done in your name? Jesus says, "I am going back into my tomb because I can't stand what is being done in my name, and I will never leave my tomb again."

    April 7, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Jesus is a corruption of Hebrew word Easu, anointed one from Hebrew word Anyat, a blessing from higher authority, letter J is added to make him a Jew, self centered, but he was a Hebrew, dedicated to truth absolute, 360*, letter A is added to conform it to hindu, pagan trinity, and letter s is added to show, respect by Hebrew principled. word Jesus is not a word of any language but hinduism, fabrication of hindu's crooks of Egypt, nor any one ever existed by this name in history.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  3. Scottland

    What a wacky religion. It's amazing so many adults commit so such an unusual belief, and it's cult-like behavior. And yes, it is a cult - just like the Jehovah's Witness. Are people crazy? The women in the organization are even wackier... at least men usually get all the perks/power.... what drives women to such things?

    April 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • toad

      what are you talking about/

      April 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • toad

      what are you talking about?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Chris

      There is no substance to what you are saying. To make an accusation like that without any factual backing is just pure ignorance. The problem is that other religions don't like what is different. But to call the Mormon church a cult because you don't know or understand what they really believe, or because it is what you have been told is very judgemental.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  4. Kyle

    I think I'm going to start a group called, religion exposed. Where I'll make tour groups and just crash religious parties. What are the mormons going to do, beat you up for walking into their building? Call the police and charge you with trespassing?

    April 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Chris

      Wow, you are so tough. OK Mr. Big Britches, I agree. I think you should do that, and see what happens.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  5. Mohammad A Dar

    hinduism, paganism, hindu Mithraism, savior ism, Christianity, handy work of hindu;s, crooks to hind, fool huamnity.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Pepcap

      Yes and your peaceful religion make the most sense. oh sorry was that pieces??

      April 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  6. Tom LI

    Boogah boogah...! Sacred places...anointed by humans? How does that work?

    April 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Loffee

      Booger Booger, wiped by humans; it works by picking your nose then wiping it under the table.

      April 8, 2012 at 1:17 am |
  7. zip

    Come on, Mormons, step up. Explain planet Kolob to all us hicks. Or should we just Google it?? When you are afraid to explain something, it makes us think you have something to hide. Explain planet Kolob!!

    April 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • toad

      sorry zip, ive been a mormon for years and its never been discussed

      April 7, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • John Williams

      Here's what the church's "Pearl of Great Price Student Manual" says about Kolob:

      "Abraham 3:2–16. The Name of the Great One Is Kolob

      "President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The Lord made known to him the following facts: That Kolob is the first creation, and is nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God. It is the first in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time. This measurement is according to celestial time. One day in Kolob is equal to a thousand years according to the measurement of this earth, which by the Egyptians was called Jah-oh-eh. Oliblish, so called by the Egyptians, stands next to Kolob in the grand governing creation near the celestial, or place where God resides. This great star is also a governing star and is equal to Kolob in its revolutions and in its measuring of time. Other grand governing stars were also revealed to Abraham” (Man: His Origin and Destiny [1954], 461.)"

      Never discussed? Hardly.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Scott

      Kind of sounds like purgatory from what I read. Hmmm, all faiths tend to have such mythos. I mean, really, do you believe in Adam and Eve?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Pepcap

      Now i know where Gene Roadenberry got all those carzy ideas. I guess fiction stimulates fiction.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • John Williams

      Pepcap, a friend of mine put it this way: Mormonism is like Scientology, but with fewer aliens.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  8. John Williams

    she thom, give it a rest. I'm a former Mormon and no fan of the church, but seriously, "secret cabal at the head of their cult"? Don't be ridiculous.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  9. hotblazer

    I think we should all have the freedom of religion, that is what our Nation was founded on. Yet some organized religions take atvantage of their tax-free status and use it to push thier agenda. Mormons and Prop 8 are forever burned in the minds of Californians who were stripped of the right to marry by a "church" using tax free funds. I'm sure Jesus would sit in the multimillion dollar temple sipping wine and congratulating the Mormons for taking rights away from those who don't even believe in the church. Yes Jesus loves to strip rights away from non-believers, that is the true word of God.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • toad

      sip wine? most mormans dont drink

      April 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • zip

      Jesus isn't a Mormon, and wouldn't be allowed in the temple.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Tom LI

      Freedom of Worship was NOT the ONLY thing this nation was founded on.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Scott

      Adhereing Mormons don't drink. Shows the extent of you ignorance on the subject now doesn't it?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  10. SK

    I only said I love mormons cause CNN rejects all my other posts. So, let me just say that religious secrecy is GREAT. Exclusion in the name of a higher power is GREAT. I totally TRUST any church with the afforementioned attributes and I especially TRUST their members to be president. Now reverse the meaning of all my capitalized words. Will this go through after eight tries? How can other people get away with using dirty words with spaces?

    April 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  11. toad

    Why are anti-mormons so full of hate? And why do they tell so many lies. If you dont believe then thats OK, but dont be so un Christ like in your bitter posts.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      @ toad,,,,

      Which would you rather me be? Cold and without or Hot and with spirit?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Scott

      It is funny how the anti mormons are a hate filled bunch. Definitely shows they are not Chritian at all, or religious at all. They are the result of secular humanism. There is a correlation in the decline of Western Civilization and the liberal progressive movement against all religions. They are truly humanities worst enemy. And Im agnostic even. But the secular athesists are some of the most hate-filled people I have ever met. Much more than any religious person.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Conartist

      Its not usually hate. Its the utter disbelief that anyone would follow something that is so clearly historically known to be made up from nonsense. That alone isn't enough especially when you get to the specifics of this cult. Jesus was born in the United State??? Missouri???? WTH??? If any mormon thought that the Heaven's Gate cult was cooky then I would have to ask why? What does one clearly made up cult have over another??? A 200+ year difference????

      April 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • AZpartsGuy

      Conartist, I don't believe the mormons believe Christ was born in the USA but that Joseph Smith saw Christ in a vision. I'm sure none of the other "Christian" churches believe that any of their leaders have seen Christ in a vision in the USA as that can only happen in the vicinity of "old" Jerusalem, right?

      April 8, 2012 at 5:27 am |
  12. biologixco

    What do brigham young, l. ron hubbard and mohammed have in common?
    A: they all lead a cult.
    B: nothing in common with Jesus.
    C: they present a danger to America.
    D. all of the above. <bing bing bing, right answer!

    April 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • toad

      bio, your post has nothing to do with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

      April 7, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Scott

      Exactly how do the Mormons represent a danger? Met a many of them, and they are just as ordinary as anyone. Church of Scientology is far far different.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Pepcap

      all religions are man made, fairy tales. tell someone enough times that unicorns and dragons exist and they will believe it.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Pepcap

      . tell someone enough times that unicorns and dragons exist and they will believe it. here comes another religion

      April 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Jesus is a corruption of Hebrew word Easu, anointed one from Hebrew word Anyat, a blessing from higher authority, letter J is added to make him a Jew, self centered, but he was a Hebrew, dedicated to truth absolute, 360*, letter A is added to conform it to hindu, pagan trinity, and letter s is added to show, respect by Hebrew principled. word Jesus is not a word of any language but hinduism, fabrication of hindu's crooks of Egypt, nor any one ever existed by this name in history. learn the meaning's of word cult, before apwing hinduism., absurdity.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  13. Timei Kaitaua

    Like every body else we members of the church (LDS) pay for all our expenses too, but for serving the Lord, we can not ask for more because God has already given us much therefore we do must give. The best way to serve and worship God is by loving him unconditionally. We don't serve and worship God so we can get paid in return. No way. The Lord has blessed our lives so we must contribute to his Work and Glory.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  14. Scott

    To all those disparaging the Mormons (Im agnostic) or making fun of them, you should see the South Park episode on them. In usual fashion, it was hilarious, poked fun at all sides, but ended with a very truism.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Spence

      That's right! South Park is the basis of intelligence in the liberal students of moronic behavior.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Scott

      Not really, it shows your ignorance, and their intelligence. Obviously you never have wathed it, ot the subtlty of their message through humor is to far above your mind.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  15. Bob

    At one time Christianity was a Jewish 'cult', but I guess once you get enough people believing in something, the "cult" thing goes away. However, Mormons may believe in Jesus Christ, but they don't believe in the basic tenets of Christianity. They may self-describe themselves as Christians, but they are not Christians. They are followers of a crazy person.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • toad

      not at all true

      April 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • AZpartsGuy

      So because mormons believe Jesus Christ is their Saviour and their church's name says it is the church of Jesus Christ then that makes them non-Christians?

      April 8, 2012 at 5:32 am |
  16. Mitt Romney

    Vote for me and I'll give Krazy Kolob Kool-Aid to all of your wives before I marry them.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  17. randy

    God says and commands in Deut. 12:4, 6, "You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you," Verse 6, "Keep therefore and do them for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations."

    God again in Deut. 12:32, repeats His command-"What thing soever I command you, observe to do it; you shall not add thereto, nor take away from it."

    When any minister adds to or takes away from the Word of God, that person is leading the members who are interesting in knowing God away from God and salvation. In the time of Israel when any prophet or minister led anyone away from God's law, he was stoned, Deut. 13:6-10.
    In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, chapter 22:14, 18-19, Christ says to all and warns all by saying-"Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right (God-promised ownership) to the tree of life and may enter in through the gates into the city." Christ warns in verse 18, "For I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." Christ is warning here in Revelation, if anyone who believes he has been accepted into the book of life, must remember that he can be taken out of Christ's book of eternal life, meaning his salvation will be taken away if he adds or takes away from God's Word, or if he is supporting any minister who adds and takes away from Christ's prophecy and law, that Christ commands to be kept, as written in Revelation

    April 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Jay Kubesch

      ...and don't you dare try to translate it out of Arameic into some godforsaken tounge like English!

      April 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Timei Kaitaua

      Tell me.. about the New Testament is it a take away or an add on?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • saychoss2

      So, if people took Deuteronomy literally, there would only be five books in the Bible, because it says to not add to it. That means most of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament would cease to be considered scripture. If people took Revelations literally, then several books of the New Testament would be thrown out as well, since it was not the last book in the New Testament to be written, it was just placed last in the New Testament.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Doug from Mexico City

      Just a note: Both Deuteronomy and Revelations are printed our of order in the two testaments. Should every book placed in the bible after Deut. be invalidated? (including the New Testament). Revelations was written before many other books of the New Testament. Should those books be invalidated, too? Just a thought for thoughtful consideration. Also: Please look up why Roger Williams left as leader of the Baptist Church in the 1600s....

      April 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Old testament is nothing but hinduism, corruption of truth by hindu. pagans of Egypt, also known as Greek Torah, rejected by son of blessed Mary, translate in to Yiddish by hindu Pharisee, pagan Jew in third century BC translated in to other languages. Book pf hinduism, corruption Old testament has no validity. Any one in following of this book of hinduism, paganism is none but a hindu, denier of truth like Pharisees, Jew's.

      April 7, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  18. Kerry

    wow. A whole two pictures? Jeez CNN, you're really redefining in depth journalism. Freaking idiots.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  19. paulronco

    “This is a sacred space, set apart place for only those who are devout followers of the faith,” Walker said.

    Every lunatic fringe needs their clubhouse.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  20. sue thom

    MORMONS ARE BRAINWASHED IMBECILES WHO WILL SLAVISHLY SERVE THE SECRET CABAL AT THE HEAD OF THEIR CULT!!! BEWARE - ROMNEY OWES HIS FULL OBEDIENCE TO THEM, NOT TO THE USA!! SICK, SICK, SICK.......

    April 7, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Michael Zorko

      how misinformed

      April 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Spence

      LMAO! That's really funny. Are you a comedian? Were you alive when JFK ran for office?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Timei Kaitaua

      You don't judge the book by its cover wait until what will come out of him at the end. Because all is well that ends well.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.