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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. biologixco

    God has a special place for false prophets.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Sue

      Why would a god punish anyone?

      April 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • biologixco

      Banishment to Planet Kolob!
      With 10 ugly wives and a handful of dirt to eat.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Jason

      I thought you didn't believe in God.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • biologixco

      Dear Sue, refer to The Bible.
      Mat 7:15, "Beware of false prophets. They come to you disguised as sheep, but in their hearts they are vicious wolves.
      Mat 24:25 (Phi) "False christs and false prophets are going to appear and produce great signs and wonders to mislead, if it were possible, even God's own people. Listen, I am warning you."
      Deut 18:20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death
      I didn't make that up. Thats God's word, not mine.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Brian

      There are many false prophets, but you'd better be sure you know which is which. "By their fruits, ye shall know them." (Matt. 7:16-20).

      April 7, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • biologixco

      joseph smith and brigham young are false prophets.
      Plain n' simple.
      That's why they were run out of Nauvoo in 1840

      April 7, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • biologixco

      Just like Islam and Scientology, somebody has to call these people out.
      Its a duty of Christians to do so...

      April 7, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Jason

      biologixco... your logic is so flawed it is not even funny... Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were false prophets because "they were run out of Nauvoo..." ??? Seriously...? So by this criteria, Jesus Christ was false because he was crucified... and all of his apostles were false because they were killed and driven off as well.... I think I remember reading somewhere in the New Testament that true followers of Christ could expect to be treated similarly to the way Christ was treated.... Howe about if you start living by these words of Jesus, "By this shall all men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." THAT is Christ's defintion of a "Christian".... not whatever made up set of rules or criteria you have come up with...

      April 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • biologixco

      I just like stirring up the pot.
      There are those of us that think mittens romney and his lds bunch dont belong in the white house.
      I would vote for a DOG before I would vote ROMNEY.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  2. barbara451

    holy cow, these people are dangerous

    April 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Jason

      That is precisely what Hitler and many fellow Germans said about the Jews as well...

      April 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • biologixco

      The people are NOT the danger.
      The heretical ideas they follow ARE!

      April 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Jason

      biologixco: and THAT is precisely what the treat tyrant Nero said of the early Christians.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  3. biologixco

    Its not that we HATE mormons.
    We just despise what they stand for.

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

      Family, values, moral discipline. What a horrible thing those Mormons stand for. :)

      April 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Sue

      And their wives stand behind them. Several wives to each.

      At least, several wives in the early days. They want to be divorced from that now, just like other Christian sects try to downplay the old testament because their "perfect" god didn't have it quite right or something.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Brian

      Well, obviously, you don't know what we stand for. We stand as representatives of Jesus Christ to the world, and we represent strong families, traditional values, the virtues of hard work and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We stand for giving Christian service to others in need. As the Lord Himself said, in Matthew 7:16-20, "By their fruits, ye shall know them."

      April 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Sue

      Really. What exactly do you think I don't understand? Are are you denying the multiple wives thing? Because if you are, you are on thin ice.

      As for your bible references, I suspect that I know the bible better than you do. Care to start into Leviticus? Didn't think so.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  4. Kenny Merriken

    Please do the following test with Mormon Mitt Romney. Yes/No or PCSR (Politically Corrrect Sidestep Response). Mitt, is Jesus Christ God? Listen to him give a PCSR and say Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Mitt Romney blasphemes the Holy Tirnity and refuses to answer with one word of "Yes" to the above question. Please research this. (Acts 17:11)

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

      "God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people." Mosiah 15:1, Book of Mormon.

      No need to be stirring up contention here.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  5. big bob

    you can be a great person of morality and judgement but without gods grace you will never enter heaven. ive met many mormons that were very decent people despite their scraligous rituals but they will only enter gods kingdom if they renounce the cult they belong to and seek the truth.

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

      We will all only enter heaven through God's grace. You misunderstand LDS beliefs.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Sue

      So re those folks in parts of the world that have not been introduced to your particular god or worship another one because they were indoctrinated with it first, yet are good people, will they go to your fine Christian hell?

      For that matter, how can such eternal punishment, that the bible promises, be justified for just about anyone?

      April 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  6. biologixco

    Joseph Smith is on his way back from planet Kolob.
    We will all live happily together as one!
    A chicken in each pot and 10 wives per man.
    Woo hoo!

    April 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • YeahOk

      "and 10 wives per man."

      I hope they're not on the same cycle, that could get ugly.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Brian

      You just enjoy being a clown. Nothing is serious at all, is it?

      April 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • biologixco

      Dear Brian:
      Just like Islam and Scientology, somebody has to call these people out.
      Its a duty of Christians to do so...
      Planet Kolob? Wah hahahaha!

      April 7, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  7. plainjane

    I would not be a part of a religion that excludes people "they" do not deem "good enough."

    April 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • bbjwebdev

      The church doesn't "deem" who is worthy and who is not. The member himself/herself decides with the local Bishop whether he or she is worthy by sitting down with the Bishop and answering a set of questions. Most members know for themselves whether or not they are worthy to enter the temple. In fact, the final question of the interview is "Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord's house and participate in temple ordinances? " You can the temple interview questions as posted in a non-official source here: http://www.lds-mormon.com/new_temple_questions.shtml

      April 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • MrC

      plainjane – The truth is a little different than you suggest. There are three signatures on a temple recommend: 2 ecclesiastical leaders and the holder of the recommend. No one looks at tax returns, etc. People who hold a recommend simply commit that they have upheld the standards. It also gives people an opportunity to examine their lives periodically (I suppose some would suggest it is similar to Catholic confession...) So it isn't so much the church deeming you not good enough... It is you deeming yourself not worthy to partake.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  8. moorenlv

    But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed
    Gal. 1:8

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

      KJV

      April 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Jason

      Amen. Every Latter-day Saint would agree with this wholeheartedly!

      April 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Brian

      Good thing what the "Mormons" preach is the very same Gospel preached by Jesus Christ and his apostles then, isn't it? Do you really think that the same Gospel could have been preached in modern times without a restoration of both authority to represent the Lord, and the full truth? How about the Bible; which version do you read? As a "Mormon," I read the KJV here, but the Luther Translation in Germany/Austria/Switzerland. They are both inspired and true, but they are not the same book. Are you implying that only English speakers will make it to Heaven because they have the same version you do? In reality, all of you Evangelicals are just Mormons who are not yet ready for the rest of the truth... Maybe you will be someday.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • moorenlv

      Do you see any similarity between an angel from heaven and another gospel and Moroni and the tables, Mr Smiths "True" gospel?
      Satanic bible states under "In demonic names," one of them as "Mormo," which is the God of the living dead, and the king of the Ghouls. The followers of Mormo, are called Mormons.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  9. Jeff

    Most Mormons are more moral than any other religion. They have their faults like anyone else. King David was a bigamist in the bible. So was his son Solomon.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • YeahOk

      "Most Mormons are more moral than any other religion."

      Oh no you didn't.

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

      jeff – at that point in time, more than one wife was OK

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

      You dont get to heaven by being moral, you get to heaven through faith in Christ. That you were going to hell without him, and only through his death and ressurection are you free from death.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • gene1o

      statistics, and anecdotal – mormons rate higher in spousal and child abuse than other xtian sects.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  10. willswords

    I'm sure it is difficult for people to understand why temples are different than chapels regarding who may attend. Mormon chapels/meeting houses are open to anyone, but temples are only open to members who affirm they are following church teachings, and this is determined collaboratively between the individual and his/her ecclesiastical leader.
    The privilege of going to the temple can be very motivating for members of the church; it is true that not everyone may attend, but this is usually because the non-admitted church member acknowledges there are things, such as possibly an addiction, or transgression, that he or she needs to clear up in their lives first.
    I think that if you accept that religion is meant to make you a better person, then I think it makes sense to have something in your religion that motivates people to do good. The privilege of temple attendance is this way for Mormons.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  11. biologixco

    Gimme a "C"
    Gimme a "U"
    Gimme a "L"
    Gimme a "T"
    What's that spell? DANGER TO AMERICA!

    April 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • 21k

      you're talking about religion in general, i hope.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  12. Xman

    It's not everyday you see millions of dollars spent in the name of worship and cult fellowship. What a crock of sh** these mormies are, what a complete joke. Special Membership access, and all the rules to follow. What a cult of wack-jobs. Take your baptismal font and stick it, weirdos.

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

      Agreed, they are every bit as loony as the Catholics.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Jason

      Xman.

      You need to get educated. Mormons on whole are very well educated... wouldn't qualify them as "whack jobs" etc. The only group of people with more MD's, PhD's and other professionals with advanced degrees per capita are Jews.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • tk729

      Angry enough?

      April 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  13. vlad the impaler

    What about those magic magnets ?

    April 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  14. Colin

    Which of the following is a simple story meant to entertain children and which is a “cherished religious belief” that should never be criticized or questioned?

    Harry Potter stared into the big black hat. Inside were magic gold tablets – which nobody else would ever see- which told Harry the secrets of the Universe, of life, death and the afterlife. They explained to him how, if he wore certain magic underwear, he would be protected from evil spirits in this life and in the end times; and

    Joseph Smith stared into the big black hat. Inside were magic gold tablets – which nobody else would ever see- which told Joseph the secrets of the Universe, of life, death and the afterlife. They explained to him how, if he wore certain sacred underwear, he would be protected from evil in this life and in the end times.

    It is odd that the newer religions, Mormonism and Scientology, for example, are even sillier and more childish than their forebearers and developed at at time when we should know better.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Brian

      Better check your sources. You're spouting stuff no Mormon has heard of or believes in. Joseph Smith and his big black hat? Very funny... Next...

      April 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Red

      Wrong Brian. It's well-doc-umented from several first-hand sources (including Emma Smith and David Whitmer) that Joseph Smith translated the golden plates by looking at a seer stone placed in a hat. Get a clue about your church's history.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • John

      Don't you mean that nobody but the dozen sworn witnesses to the golden plates?

      If you must attempt parody, you need to get your facts parallel.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  15. Red

    Most Mormons I know are decent people. However, any church that teaches it is God's one and only is bound to be obnoxious on some level.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • bobcat2u

      Red
      The thing is, all religions says that they are the only one. That's a fact.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Red

      Wrong buddy. There is a huge trend away from exclusivist claims. The Mormons are a little bit behind the times.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • willswords

      They just agree to disagree?

      April 7, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  16. Spencer

    Looking at the comments bouncing around, it is strange to me that people will be so vehement (and disrespectful) in regards to an area where uncertainty appears to be where reason leads us. In Atheism the best one can get to logically is an uncertainty as to the existence of a god. The gap has to be bridged by a choice to believe that there is no such thing. So isn't it more than a little inconsistent to mock people for making their decision in the other direction? They have faced the same gap of uncertainty, they have just decided differently. The same goes for religions in general. There is a great deal of uncertainty, let people live according to what they have found helps them make it from day to day and hold your peace. If you want to know what makes a person tick, ask them. The rest is merely arguing for the sake of being contrary. Though for some people, maybe the arguing is how they make it from day to day.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • gene1o

      'and i, i never took much. i never asked for your crutch;now don't ask for mine.' thanx again bobby.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • pastmorm

      The problems is, little spence, that you mormons don't want to let people live peacefully in their own beliefs. The proof is in the baptisms you do for the dead. You believe you are superior to anyone else or any other religion. That is harmful to humanity...in case you need an example, why don't you read up on Hitler?

      April 7, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  17. YeahOk

    @WhackyWaco
    "Who do they look to in troubling times?"

    Friends, family, yourself. You know, beings that really exist.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  18. Rick Springfield

    Let them run the nation. They seem to get people to pay their due better than any other religion.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • YeahOk

      Says the man who is upset about not having Jessie's girl.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  19. George Bush

    I don't hate Mormons, I feel bad for them, like scientologists and the people in the Jim Jones cult.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Brian

      No need to pity that which you obviously know precious little (if anything) about. It's all there; lds.org or mormon.org. This is not high rocket science, except to the willfully blind and ignorant. Better to study first and avoid bearing false witness, don't you think?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  20. big bob

    to everyone out there......mormonism or any other alleged religion other than christianity is an abomination and condemned by our saviour jesus christ, its that simple folks , thw way to heaven is through christ and only christ (despite what devil worshippers like oprah say). im amazed how many have become gullible to other teachings and degenerate groups.

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

      That is funny to hear you say, considering Jesus Christ and his atonement are the center of faith for the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints preaches first and foremost that Jesus Christ is the Savior. Don't be a modern-day Pharisee or false witness bearer; you'd better study from reliable sources first before commenting in public on such things. Try lds.org or mormon.org, not some yellow-rag website with an axe to grind against the Church. The issue is too important to take lightly and not put in your due diligence.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Jason

      big bob,

      Every "Mormon" would agree with you.

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

      Who are you to say Bob? You are as blind as anyone else. Why would anyone believe what you have to say about anything?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Cindy

      Oprah is a devil worshipper? Where did you get that idea? Do you know what is in her heart? How can you judge us? Jesus said, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." It is not your place to say who goes to heaven, bib bob. It's that simple.

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

      Thanks for clearing that up Bob. Appreciate it.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      big bob..your religion is as crazy as any of the others..you have nothing at all over any others..you have been told that yours is real as all the others but that is it. Sorry ,you are just as gullible, and your teachings are no more important than any other book of fiction.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Dave

      Mormons are Christians, The Church Name says it all:

      "The Church of Jesus Chrit of Latter Day Saints.

      I accept Jesus Christ as my saviou and am born again through his grace and the atonement.

      I think that makes me a mormon a Christian.

      Dave

      April 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • bobcat2u

      Christianity in itself is alright. Christianity being taught in so many differt ways, is an abomination. Everyone of them can't possibly be the only true way. So how do you make your choice ?

      April 7, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Levi

      big bob,

      Do you know the actual name of the Mormon church? It is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mormons are Christians. Their belief is centered on Christ, His Atonement and His Resurrection.

      You sound like an ignorant fool. Maybe try educating yourself before you leave such naive posts for everyone to see.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:49 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.