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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.


soundoff (4,366 Responses)
  1. jj

    The general public can no longer see the '12yo girl marryin' temple'? The dead Jew baptismal pit? I'm so sad that I missed the tour...

    April 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Leeroy

      I'm sorry you missed it too. Because you would have learned the truth if you had gone. And this article points out our intentions when it come to innapropriate Jewish Baptisms . . . so I'm not sure why you have to try to stir the pot with falsehoods.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  2. I'm shocked...

    I'm shocked at these comments. For those who are Christian, the idea of a temple should not be new to them (read the Old and New Testament). And for those who criticize the Church more generally in their comments, I'm sorry they feel that way. Many of the comments encourage logic, but most sound like rash, emotion-driven reactions. My plea is that if you have questions about the LDS Church, then please take the time to seek answers on http://www.mormon.org. And if you don't care to investigate the Church, then we simply ask for respect and understanding. We respect your beliefs and invite you to follow your conscience, and we simply ask to be able to do the same. We can have differing ideas about God and the purpose of life and still live together in a spirit of tolerance, respect, and kindness.

    Like you, we are raising families and striving to be a blessing to our neighbors and the communities in which we live. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I can attest to the fact that I am a better person because of my faith in Jesus Christ and membership in the LDS Church. My marriage is stronger as a result of my membership in the LDS Church. These are some of the reasons while I believe and belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of others feel the same way, and for the millions who feel otherwise, we respect you and ask for respect in return (even in a comment-posting on CNN.com).

    April 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  3. Paul Wilson

    I am very glad I am not a Mormon. Don't believe in anything nor do I want their conttrol over my life ...

    April 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • ikaties

      I'm happy for you too! So you should have no worries! The most religious people I know are atheists! You guys spend 80% of your time devoted to discounting and disproving religious practice. Wouldn't this be a better world if you spent even 50% of your time making the world a better place by being a kind human being?

      April 8, 2012 at 2:05 am |
  4. Sergo Jean

    "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" ( Amos 3 :7 ). I do believe God communicates to the Church through His prophet. And I also believe a prophet is a man called by God to be is representative on earth; and he is also a special witness for Christ, testifying of His divinity and teaching His gospel.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  5. Scott

    It is interesting to see so much hatred for a religion. There have been many such movements. Nazism, Soicalism. Communism. Really, reliogions are the first thing all dictatorships crack down on. So now we see which side all the hate-filled people would fall on, where as all the liberty believing people believe in freedom to practice your religion.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  6. Steve the Goat

    The fact that mormon is moron with one extra letter is no coincidence.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Spence

      By Golly Steve, you must be Brilliant! You voted for Obama, didn't you! You don't see that kind of extreme brilliance very often, but you and Obama are the dimmest lights of the 21st Century.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • saychoss2

      Considering that you are a self-proclaimed "goat", you comments mean nothing to me...

      April 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  7. elyse

    Here's some food for thought for everyone who seems to be so outraged that Mormons don't let others into their temples: pretend you're smart enough to be a surgeon. What do you have to do to be a surgeon? You have to getan undergraduate degree. And what do you have to do to get that undergraduate degree? You have to go to college, and you have to get good grades, and in order to do that, you have to pass your tests. And then once you obtain your undergraduate degree, you go to medical school. And what do you do in medical school? You take more tests, and you learn how to be a surgeon. And then once you've done everything required of you to become a surgeon, you get to operate on people. Do you think if you tried to go into an operating room and operate on people without any of this they would let you? No, they wouldn't. The temple is kind of like that. Now go ahead, tell me what an idiot I am, and how wrong I am.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • pastmorm

      Ok. You're an idiot and you're wrong. How can you compare what a surgeon does during surgery to what mormons do in their temples to the supposed SAME christian god that has to be kept secret? Why do you have these temples anyhow? What are you trying to tell the world? Why couldn't you do these rituals in your church buildings?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • paul ryan

      You're an idiot and you're wrong... happy?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • smh

      An enormous idiot. You don't have to go to school to enter a Mormon temple.
      Apples and oranges, anyone?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • YeahOk

      Sounds like a lot of requirements to join in and praise your God as a group.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Exmo

      I understand your reasoning.. however that doesn't mean you have the truth.

      Do your homework outside of Sunday school and you will see why it considered a cult by most educated people.

      JS was a pedophile and a con man. History proves it with facts.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Joe M

      Your analogy is strained at best. How about my opinion? If you take subsidies from the taxpayer base by not paying taxes on these obscene excesses, then the public should have access. Want to keep it private? Pay taxes.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • King Kreole

      You are an idiot, we are not talking about operating on people. We are talking about going in sitting down and meditating, praying, etc., I don't let my grandmother work on my mercedes but she certainly is welcomed to look under the hood.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Edward

      Pastmorm ...... Why is anyone else any more wrong than you are?

      April 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Leeroy

      Elyse, I know you mean well . . . but it's really not that hard to go to the Temple. In fact, my children get to go in when they are 12 years old. It's really not that hard. :) But I get your point. Not everyone can drive a car. You have to learn a few things and pass an exam first. :)

      April 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  8. Rich

    "includes posthumous baptisms of Jews, some of whom have protested the practice."

    Really, CNN? Deceased Jews protested their own posthumous baptisms? That's a neat trick, since "posthumous" means it is after death... or maybe you need to write clearer.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  9. YeahOk

    "You just ain't going anywhere except 4 to 6 feet under and dirt thrown in your face and that is where it ends."

    SPOILER ALERT!!

    April 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • YeahOk

      Grrrrrrr. Was in reply to Contrary Mary.

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

    People fear and hate what they don't understand. I will never understand why people are willing to just take someone's word about what the Mormon's believe rather than asking a Mormon or investigating the Mormon Church themselves. If I wanted to know about a Catholic I wouldn't ask a Baptist. I'd ask a Catholic.

    I also think people hate the Mormons because we do not accept many of the "traditional" doctrines of Christian theology like the Trinity, infant baptism and original sin.

    Some of the things we do believe in are:
    God the father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
    The Bible is the word of God as is the Book of Mormon. We believe that all people are responsible for their own choices, lives and that God will not force us to be obedient to his laws or commandments. We believe in living prophets and continuing revelation and we believe in doing good to all people. We believe in baptism by immersion and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying of of hands. We also believe that everyone can choose their own path in life. We invite all to come to Christ and learn of him. We ask that you pray and investigate for yourself if our Church is true.

    For more information see:

    http://www.lds.org

    http://www.mormon.org

    April 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • George Bush

      It is a cult, now pay your 10% and don't question. Soon you will get to be a God with a whole batch of 12 year old brides.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Scott

      You are exactly right. Small minded people hate and spew hatred for things they don't comprehend or know nothing about. And the posts show it here. These are the same mindless morns that elect people like Obama and Pelosi. They have been duped and brainwashed by them more then the so calledevil Mormons they despise.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • veronica

      But you don't believe that Jesus is THE son of God, just a really good man and that's main reason (among others) why Mormonism is considered a CULT of Christianity. Some would say that Joseph Smith should be considered the Anti Christ for misleading his followers into believing that Jesus is not God and I would have to agree with that. Mormons have been seriously mislead from the very beginning and the truly sad thing is that so many of you are so steeped in the lies of the Book of Mormon that you're not even willing to accept otherwise. The very same holds true for the Jehovah Witnesses.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      The HolY Bible is the Gospel,,,, Right? Have you not read in the Gospel that one should "First Seek the Kingdom of God"? Does one's conversionism of your faith also SeekFirst God's Kingdom Domains or are you heelbound by saying your manufactured by man's hands churches are Godly ensembles and are God's Kingdom upon this world, the Earth?

      Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is INSIDE you.

      The above passaged scripture declares that our domain is not of God's Kingdom for God's Kingdom lays INSIDE OUR BODIES. More proof you say? Okay,,,,,,,

      1Cointhiansr 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

      Not only does the Kingdom Doamins of God lay INSIDE our bodies, our bodies are God's buildings and He and His generations along with otherly brethren do inhabit His Buildings now and ever more!

      April 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  11. CNNNN

    Looks like a cult, smells like a cult...

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

      But isnt a cult.

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

      What is a cult? People said that about early Christianity as well. Why don't you make friends with a Mormon and get to know us? We dress like you, look like you, work and live everywhere. We have no secret agenda – we have the same goals and life aspirations.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Leeroy

      Would you think us a cult if you found out they were doing many of the same things in the Temples mentioned in the Scriptures . . . specifically in the King James version of the Bible?

      April 7, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • susan

      The LDS faith is closer to the Christian beliefs of Christs time than the religions developed after the Nician Creed...do some homework and read about what the first Christians believed about the God Head.
      I think it is appalling and disgusting that comments are made about LDS people having 12 year old brides......to belive such garbage shows a lack of intellect and down right contempt for anothers beliefs.....The LDS people believe in Christ like all Christians and we believe he is the Son of God and not just a good man...where are people getting such nonsense!?! Oh my if you want to know what a "Mormon" beleives how about asking one and not reading what someone else says they believe?

      April 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  12. Pipe-Dreamer

    The problem with "Mormons" is in divisabilities of proclusionism. They seem to want to be apart of 7 Day Lateralists but they want money from which to parlor and banter about with little to almost nothing for the pawltry poor folks. The same can be said for all of this world's socially constructed churches that banter about their holier than thou sermonisms for socially emotionalized sermonizings betterment status. I will remain in my closeted ways and shout out to the waves of forlornments ever seizing the moments to make capital the offensives of socially unjustified post mortums that serve only their individualistics' flockings.

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

      Part of your name is correct, as you must be in a dream.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Mr_Normal

      I'm having a hard time with this comment.
      It looks like English but it makes absolutely no sense. O.o

      If anyone wants to talk about Mormonism, it's best to go find yourself a Mormon and ask him/her a question. They can probably answer it. If not a missionary can.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  13. edmundburkeson

    May be a step in the right direction. Perhaps someday they can deny that they ever really shut people out at all.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  14. Contrary Mary

    There is Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and then – this, religion! Fairy tales can come true if you prey upon a few. Get a life people. You just ain't going anywhere except 4 to 6 feet under and dirt thrown in your face and that is where it ends. Sorry folks, I don't need these kind of crutches upon which to live my life. I face reality and wish you would.

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

      How do you know?

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

      People who do not believe in religion is a cult. Who do they look to in troubling times?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Rich

      If you are correct, then your existence ultimately means nothing. You don't matter. You are not greater than the sum of your parts. You simply haven't reached this logical conclusion and embraced nihilism, or you are intellectually stunted and cannot see that is where your logic leads.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • ikaties

      The most religious people I know are atheists! You guys spend 80% of your time devoted to discounting and disproving religious practice. Wouldn't this be a better world if you spent even 50% of your time making the world a better place by being a kind human being? I think it would take a lot of strength for someone to be kind.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:07 am |
  15. Red

    @toad, ti thing is required to get into the Mormon heaven. Who are you kidding?

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

      As a Mormon, I can honestly tell you how wrong you are. "Mormon heaven" and "regular heaven" are one and the same. There is only ONE heaven.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  16. polemicist

    Did they get to see the video of what should happen if people reveal the secrets? That's one of my favorite parts about the Temple ceremony, you're threatened with death if you divulge information. ;)

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

      Here's that very video!

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKG5kMnZZcM&w=640&h=390]

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

      Hmmmm. Never seen anyone killed who I know that has divulged anything. Quite the contrary.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  17. truth is stranger than fiction

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7q6brMrFw0E&w=420&h=315]

    April 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  18. Red

    @toad, ti-thing is required to get into the Mormon heaven, clear and simple. Who are you kidding?

    April 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  19. Jules

    All due respect to Mormans, but when you have a temple or church that shuts people out, you are not a church of Jesus Christ – at least that's the way I see it.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Brandon

      “Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)

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

      Jules, you are welcome at any temple (as is anyone else.) All you have to do is join the church, live by its standards, and voilå... you are in!! Absolutely no one is shut out...

      April 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • budabelly

      Jules, I understand how you feel. I just wanted to point out, we are not saying non members are not welcome to our church. Heck, I spent 2 years helping people visit my church. The temple is a separate part from a church meeting house. We believe that the temple is where you can go to feel closer to Jesus Christ, but if you do not prepare yourself mentally and spiritually for the sacred covenants you make with Him, it would be pointless to go. When a new member joins the church we work very hard to help that person prepare to go to the temple. We want all to experience it, but when they're ready. Jesus spoke in parables because those who could understand it would then be held accountable to live what He preached, likewise those who couldn't understand His parable wouldn't be held accountable for not living it until they were ready to understand him. Please don't mistake our desire for people to properly prepare themselves as an intent to shun those not in our religion. Thank you.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • MormonChristian

      Jules, if you respect us, stop misspelling the name Mormon.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Leeroy

      You are welcomed into the Temple. However, you do need to be a member. and you acn become a member just as anyone else can. I believe only certain people were allowed into the Temples mentioned in the Scriptures . . . so this is nothing new.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  20. LDS4Life

    Admission to the Mormon temple requires 10% of your income. That's okay though because God gives us everything anyway.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • George Bush

      Too bad he didn't give you a clue.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Christian

      You know how much "Admission" there is to a true Christian church? Zero. Jesus paid for your "Admission" already.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
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About this blog

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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.