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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. Qaiser Ali

    Does anybody of these religion believe that God is one and the only One , and if they believe this then what are the chances that other religion like Muslims who believe in one God could be the same God, and if the only God is same then what are the rulings if the one and only God gives instructions to the people of different religion s like Jews ,Christians and the Muslims , and all should follow them when the rules are given , which means that we should follow the latest words and rules.
    If they do not believe in One God and think that each religion has its own God then in reality they all believe in more than one God.

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

      Next time they offer bomb-making at madressa school, Ali, sign up. You are just bright enough to make a big mark for Allah!

      April 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  2. Rick

    Is this the Mormons' effort for good PR? Maybe they should stop their international war on the civil rights of gays and lesbians, and then I'll think good things about them. Until then, they are just self-righteous bigots. Shame on CNN for giving them this publicity.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Last Call

      Not to defend Mormons, but they do not hate gay people. Check your facts. They do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman though, as the Bible clearly states in the Old and New Testaments.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  3. tokencode

    So the rare tour of a mormon temple shows exactly 1 picture from inside said temple that looks like it could have been taken at a hotel... way to go CNN....

    April 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  4. *frank*

    Mormonism is the Thomas Kincade of religions.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  5. longtooth

    People can believe what they like. What difference does it make?

    April 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  6. willswords

    If you would like to see the pictures of the interior of the temple mentioned in the article, see the following article from the LDS Church:
    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormon-kansas-city-missouri-temple-open-house

    April 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • willswords

      Let me try that link again... http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormon-kansas-city-missouri-temple-open-house

      April 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • willswords

      Looks like CNN won't let you post live links, so here is a shortened one:

      http://bit.ly/kcldstemple

      April 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  7. Guest

    Mormonism is a cult, plain and simple. It's NOT a religion and it's NOT Christian! Why, because it completely and utterly contradicts EVERYTHING that Christ taught-therefor it is not, nor will it ever be Christian! Don't believe it, look it up!

    April 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Edward

      Guest - Is a simpleton, plain and simple. And a follower of evil.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  8. tk729

    The same critical view of the Mormon faith can be applied towards every other belief system as a man-made construction. This article's purpose was to help the general public become better informed about the Mormon temple rather than rely on hearsay and rumors perpetuated by mean-spirited individuals.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  9. Red

    How many of you Mormons have read "Rough Stone Rolling" by faithful Mormon historian Richard Bushman?

    April 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  10. big bob

    lol.....god try nonya, trying to blur the line.......its really black and white

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

      Big Bob just wants everyone to do what he says. Big Bob is just another protestant knucklehead that thinks he knows what he is talking about because some idea popped up between his ears. Sorry BB, but you are not more meaningful than anyone else.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  11. alfranken

    The Jefferson Bible is the only book that should be considered if you want to live a real Christ-like life.
    The Holy Bible is a scam that gradually evolved over time to meet the ends of perversion and it started with the con of all cons Paul (Saul).

    The Old Testament is nothing but History, Psalms, law, and elusive prophesy of the Jews. That's all nothing more than other religions of the time.

    If you can live a life as commanded in the gospels only then you're on the only right track.

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

      I think Alf is kinda rank en you should maybe not worship a muppet.

      O.o

      April 7, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  12. Derek

    Any time that something that big and gaudy is erected in the name of religion is a sign that something isn't quite right. The same goes for when religious leaders drive an Escalade or wear shoes made of ostrich. These are just a few examples.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  13. ds60

    Whaddya call a bunch of morons who drink Tab, eat apples, and sing? Tho Moron Tab and Apple Choir.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • ds60

      sorry, "The"

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

      If you'd made that joke about Islam, you'd have been stoned to death by now.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  14. saychoss2

    "A rare tour of a Mormon temple" and CNN only posts one picture of the inside? Where are the rest of the pictures? Did CNN run out of server space and couldn't post anymore?

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

      there are numerous photos available here: http://bit.ly/kcldstemple ( a shortened version of http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormon-kansas-city-missouri-temple-open-house )

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

      There are other slide shows if you wish to find them, other than a CNN article.
      Here's a link with a few other pix:

      http://www.mormonwiki.com/Inside_Mormon_Temples

      April 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • J

      Check out the Church Website, http://www.lds.org/church/temples

      April 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  15. Richard

    I thought this article was supposed to be about the temple. Interesting how the author kept at the "proxy baptism" angle... interesting and disappointing since I can read about proxy baptisms elsewhere on CNN but can't find out more about the tour except from this wayward author.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  16. nonya

    Just so we are all on the same page with these "insults"
    Seems the majority of posters are in a cult.....

    CULT (according to Webster)
    n. 1. Attentive care; homage; worship.
    Every one is convinced of the reality of a better self, and of the cult or homage which is due to it.
    - Shaftesbury.
    2. A system of religious belief and worship.
    That which was the religion of Moses is the ceremonial or cult of the religion of Christ.
    - Coleridge.
    3. A system of intense religious veneration of a particular person, idea, or object, especially one considered spurious or irrational by traditional religious bodies; as, the Moonie cult.
    4. The group of individuals who adhere to a cult (senses 2 or 3).
    5. A strong devotion or interest in a particular person, idea or thing without religious associations, or the people holding such an interest; as, the cult of James Dean; the cult of personality in totalitarian societies.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  17. big bob

    on the contrary jason, i understand all too well. you belong to a blasphemous cult with a lot of money , its that simple, your practices are sacriligious and rediculous.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  18. Josef Bleaux

    For many years, one of the Mormon teachings was that after Cain slew Able, he went to the land of Nod and took a wife. Since Adam, Eve and Cain were at that time the only people on Earth, a lot of people asked where the wife came from. The Mormon church's answer was that he married an ape and that's where black people came from. They stopped this teaching in the late 1960's and now disavow it. But I would bet most of them still believe it.

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

      Josef - Have you ever paid attention? That has never been a Mormon belief. No one married any apes.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Josef Bleaux

      You haven't paid attention. I was told that by a Mormon preacher when I was 12 years old. His wife confirmed that's what Mormons believe. This was around 1960. Since then I've read that it used to be part of their teachings but they now disavow it. You obviously don't know what you're talking about.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • saychoss2

      Mr Bleaux, where did you hear such a crazy idea about marrying apes? People need to stop repeating every anti-mormon thing they ever hear without researching it first, or it makes you look like an uneducated fool.

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

      That's not only ridiculous but repulsive as well. I've never heard that preached by ANY Mormon.
      Would you care to look that up in some authoritative work other than "50 years ago my weirdo neighbor told me this weird stuff"?

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

      I am a lifelong member of the LDS Church (including the sixties) and I've never heard of this offensive theory.

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

      Josef, I can promise you that that has never been taught or believed in my lifetime. Also, it should be noted that there is no direct evidence in the Bible that Cain and Abel were the only children of Adam and Eve at the time of their confrontation. Wherever you are getting your information from, it is patently incorrect.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Craig

      This is simply not true. I don't know where you found this information in the annals of church history. Just because some preacher told you, and his wife confirmed it, doesn't mean much.

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

      Josef - Had you just gotten back from "Planet of the Apes"? LMAO...........

      April 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Josef Bleaux

      Believe what you want but I was TOLD my a Mormon minister and his wife that this was a Mormon teaching. Do you think they were lying? Why would they lie about something like that? I know what I heard and that's what they said. Make of it what you want but the definitely said it.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  19. Muneef

    Just asking, can I become a Christian but still believing that GOD is One and Jesus was the Prophet of GOD and that he did not die for our sins?

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

      No, you have to follow Ali all over the place pretending to follow that other dead knucklehead.

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

      Yes you can but the main point of Christianity is that Jesus payed the price for us to be with God. We should help others because it is what God commands but it will not help you get to eternity with God. So there is nothing wrong with what you said.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Mike P

      To be a Christian is to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the divine Word of God made flesh, so you cannot be a Christian if you intend to believe that he was merely human and not also divine. The point of Christianity, really, is saying that because God the Father could not find a sinless man among us to die for the sins of the world, God the Son had to come down and become a man Himself by the power of God the Holy Spirit. So if you don't believe that Jesus is fully divine just as God is, you're not a Christian - all mainstream Christians subscribe to the believe that the one God exists as three divine Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit), and that Jesus is the human incarnation of God the Son.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Josef Bleaux

      To become a Christian, all that's required is that you have an IQ below 90.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Kelly

      Muneef, God IS one my friend. Jesus was God en-robed in flesh, the book of John clearly states that in the first chapter.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Mr_Normal

      Start anywhere you like and just keep gaining more along to way. <3

      April 7, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Muneef

      Jesus was not a merely human since human come from a male and female interaction,  neither was Jesus alone unsupported ;
      -- 
      Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, "Be," and he was. 3:59

      The truth is from your Lord, so do not be among the doubters. 3:60
      ----
      [The Day] when Allah will say, "O Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My favor upon you and upon your mother when I supported you with the Pure Spirit and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and [remember] when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you designed from clay [what was] like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission; and you healed the blind and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from [killing] you when you came to them with clear proofs and those who disbelieved among them said, "This is not but obvious magic." 5:110

      And [remember] when I inspired to the disciples, "Believe in Me and in My messenger Jesus." They said, "We have believed, so bear witness that indeed we are Muslims [in submission to Allah ]." 5:111
      --

      And We did certainly give Moses the Torah and followed up after him with messengers. And We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and supported him with the Pure Spirit. But is it [not] that every time a messenger came to you, [O Children of Israel], with what your souls did not desire, you were arrogant? And a party [of messengers] you denied and another party you killed. 2:87
      ---

      Those messengers – some of them We caused to exceed others. Among them were those to whom Allah spoke, and He raised some of them in degree. And We gave Jesus, the Son of Mary, clear proofs, and We supported him with the Pure Spirit. If Allah had willed, those [generations] succeeding them would not have fought each other after the clear proofs had come to them. But they differed, and some of them believed and some of them disbelieved. And if Allah had willed, they would not have fought each other, but Allah does what He intends. 2:253

      April 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Muneef

      As a Muslim we are tought the following;

      Say, "We have believed in Allah and in what was revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Descendants, and in what was given to Moses and Jesus and to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims [submitting] to Him." 3:84

      April 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Mike

      Standard Muneef post:

      Blah blah blah Allah blah blah blah for several paragraphs.

      Not much reality there, just enough around the false stories to try to get attention. Next, please.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Muneef

      They say, "Be Jews or Christians [so] you will be guided." Say, "Rather, [we follow] the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth, and he was not of the polytheists." 2:135

      Say, [O believers], "We have believed in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him." 2:136

      So if they believe in the same as you believe in, then they have been [rightly] guided; but if they turn away, they are only in dissension, and Allah will be sufficient for you against them. And He is the Hearing, the Knowing. 2:37

      April 7, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Muneef

      The dead do not return to the earthly life after they die, so if you believe that Jesus would return to earthly life then you have to believe what this verse states;
      --
      And [for] their saying, "Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah ." And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. 4:157

      Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.4:158

      April 7, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  20. Mr_Normal

    Good article. But I think the reporter missed a small detail about the Temple recommend. I'm pretty sure President Monson is not Elder Walker's Bishop. A Recommend has to be signed by a Bishop and his next higher authority, which would be President Monson, thus, it has two signatures on it.

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

      It used to be that some recommends required only one signature. A Mission President could do it and a member of the 12 or the Prophet could be single signatories. Don't know if that's still a practice or not.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:11 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.