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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

    willard "mittens" romney is the anti-Christ.
    You heard it here first!

    April 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  2. BHS

    that doesnt look like a baptismal. That looks more like a hot tub for the pedaphiles to take their child brides. This is a sick group of people

    April 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Someone

      Not sure if trolling or just stupid...

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

      Please do shut up unless you know what it is you are speaking about...
      you are a troll plain and simple, now sushshsh

      February 19, 2013 at 8:24 am |
  3. Kyle

    You know, I don't agree with this at all. People have the right to believe and practice religion in our country and the religious churches have certain government leniency with regard to tax exemption. But the right to erect a giant multi million dollar building and pay no taxes is a privilege not a right. I don't think they should be able to bar people from their building, what if they are sacrificing babies in there. The public should have the right to check up on these religions and make sure they are not breaking laws.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Someone

      So the right to privacy goes out the window for religious groups? Arguments against tax exemption are one thing, but really, that's an awfully slippery slope on which you stand.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Kyle

      People have privacy rights on their own property that is NOT tax exempt, religions have NO rights, simply privileges that the public gives them.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  4. Blake Jensen

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ddXNF29goo&w=640&h=390]

    April 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • brandon

      http://bookofabraham.info/

      April 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • pastmorm

      I love how mormons use such great graphics and fluffy music to get more converts. Once you're a member of the mormon church you don't hear about Jesus anymore, you hear about the teachings of the mormon prophets and how you must follow their words. Jesus is hardly ever mentioned, he's just used to get converts, then their left wondering what the heck happened!

      April 8, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Bored by biased media! Journalism today sucks!

      Past Mormon... if your really a past mormon than you are lying if your not a past mormon you are lying than as well... either way!

      April 8, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  5. Someone

    Rare? They do this every time they build one. Before it's dedicated and open for business, they open it up for anyone to see and tour. It's really not that rare.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  6. BHS

    Did they get a tour into the secret ritual rooms? Read about mormon secret rituals. Sick and disturbing stuff....and people believe it and practice it. Really frightening.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Someone

      As a former Mormon who has been in the Temple, I can safely say that you're completely full of it. Odd? Sure. Sick? Um, no. Stop using the National Enquirer as your source.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • BHS

      well, "Someone," as a former cult member, you must not have been in the inner circle. So apparently your romp in the cult was a failed trial run, which is why you are no longer involved.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Someguy

      Please do go on with your stupidity your making the plants feel more intelligent with every post.
      FACTS you slob quit spouting nonsense.

      February 19, 2013 at 8:29 am |
  7. KC

    I am being totally serious-does Romney wear the sacred underwear–do his boys wear it?

    April 7, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  8. pastmorm

    This will really amaze you. Science, not religion...and yet they still believe....

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcyzkd_m6KE&w=640&h=390]

    April 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • brandon

      All Mormons need to watch this video. They might be surprised where their "canon" came from.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • moorenlv

      Wow, very telling!

      April 7, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  9. jack leddy

    Just imagine how a once wingnut cult led by a delusional Joseph Smith has become a wealthy and established religion. In another century Christian Science, another wingnut cult, may well achieve such establishment status.There is no over estimating the ignorance of people. This is not a duplicate comment !!!

    April 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Mick

      Jack: It's sad that you are so bothered by a religious group here in the United States that does so much good for people of all nationalities and faiths. If you don't believe me simply go online and search through LDS Church Humanitarian Aid and you will see how often the Church works with Catholic Charities, Red Cross, and many other groups to relieve the suffering of others.

      As for the beliefs in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, the emphasis of our belief is in Jesus Christ and He is the center of our religion and the cornerstone of our belief. Joseph is merely a prophet comparable to Moses, Abraham, Elijah, or any other prophet God has spoken to through the ages. Thank you though for your extreme interest in the Church.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • brandon

      Mick – your emphasis may be in "Jesus," just not the true Jesus of the Bible. Joseph Smith was no prophet, he was a liar. http://bookofabraham.info/

      April 7, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  10. baffled

    All religion is made up! It started off as a way to explain the (as then) unexplainable! The sooner people realize this the sooner we will end all the hate and bigotry!

    April 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Mr_Normal

      Sounds like hatred and bigotry against religion.

      You're not too hip on laws, are you?

      April 7, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • YeahOk

      "Sounds like hatred and bigotry against religion."

      No, it's called reality. You should try it some time.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Alex

      Truth be told, I have come across more people who are vindictive and hateful that are actually non religious.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • baffled

      Ouch Mr_Normal! Lol
      I don't hate anybody because I'm a reasonable, logical person. How is it that the stories from ancient greek and roman religions are called myths, while similar stories in the bible is considered truth? Its all fairy tales meant to explain things that science was too young to explain. Just as everyone once believed the world was flat, someday humans will look back at religion and laugh at our ignorance!

      April 7, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Mick

      Baffled: I am baffled that you think we came from apes, and have evolved. Why did some people evolve then and others remained behind as apes? That simply "baffles" me. You, my friend, and all of your family, are not related to monkeys, no matter how much somebody may tell you that.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  11. jack leddy

    Just imagine how a once wingnut cult led by a delusional Joseph Smith has become a wealthy and established religion. In another century Christian Science, another wingnut cult, may well achieve such establishment status.There is no over estimating the ignorance of people.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  12. Red

    Mormon temple rituals are not secret. You can easily look them up online.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  13. biologixco

    God has a special place for false prophets.
    And for followers of false prophets too.
    You know who you are

    April 7, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Kenjitheman

      So what you are saying is, every budhist and muslim is doomed for eternity? LOL, sweet. All of our problems just got solved. Your an idiot!!.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • mike p

      Oh the irony...

      April 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Jason

      A certain comment Jesus made about motes and beams comes to mind.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  14. Blake Jensen

    Visit http://www.lds.org to see a Mormon message about Easter. Just click play at lds.org. P.S. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian church.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Gary in Albany

      No, Mormonism is a cult, and has already been disproven by DNA ans scientific fact. Joseph Smith "married" a 14 year old girl and would be jailed as a pedophile if he were alive today.

      Mormonism = wacky, f-ed up cult founded by a pedophile.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Sarah

      Have you ever read The Journal of Discourses by Brigham Young? He states that Adam is God. He states that we can kill people so they do not die in their grievous sins (blood atonement), and that blacks are born that way because they were not as good as whites in the pre-existence.
      This is not a Christian church. Some of the people really do believe only Jesus is their Saviour.
      Source of this information: me (26 years as a temple-going, LDS) and The Journal of Discourses.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Steve-In-MA

      I'm sorry, but the LDS Church, the Mormon Church, is not a Christian Church. It has drifted too far away from Christian dogma to legitimately claim to be Christian. It's rather as though a Jew converted to Christianity and then claimed that now he was a "real Jew". It may make them feel good, but it's just not true.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • brandon

      Sorry Blake, Mormons are not Christians. Mormons believe in a "canon" that is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet. Please watch this video. http://bookofabraham.info/

      April 7, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Someone

      Um, Gary, you do realize that it was not uncommon at ALL to marry that young in the early-mid 1800's, right? Edgar Allen Poe married a 13 year-old. Furthermore, seeing as how Mormons believe in Jesus and that sort of thing, I think it's safe to say they're Christian.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  15. Gary in Albany

    I live in a historic house that predates Joseph Smith (the pedophile founder of the Mormon cult) and can't imagine how anyone can believe a religion that is less than 200 years old as anything that came from God.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Laughing at Ignorance

      Pedophile founder???

      I think you are confusing Mormons with Muslims. Mohammed consummated his marriage with Aisha when she was 9 years old.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Sarah

      @ Laughing... no he's right. Joseph married girls who were 14 years old. That's pedophilia.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Mick

      Gary and Sarah: Sadly, you seem to be proof that a person can leave the Church but you can't seem to leave it alone. It still bothers you that even though you don't seem to believe anymore, it has now become your responsibility in life to minimize the apostasy you have portrayed. Sad, so very sad. If you don't believe, just let it go, you will feel much better because the bitterness will be gone.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  16. human being

    Love One Another

    April 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  17. Isolda

    James is correct. Why not read the Bible and find out the truth for yourself? Christ died for our sins once and for all. Accepting his sacrifice is all we need.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • YeahOk

      I've read the bible. I find very little truth in it.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Mick

      Isolda: James 2:17-18 – Faith without works is dead. John 15:16 – If ye love me, KEEP my commandments. John 20:12-13 The dead, small and great, stood before God, and the dead were judged out of the books, according to their WORKS.

      It seems to appear that simply saying one believes is not enough, you show your faith by your works, not simply by what you say, but rather by how you live.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  18. moorenlv

    the blog cops suck!

    April 7, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Mr_Normal

      Either that or your last post sucked.
      :D

      April 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  19. bbjwebdev

    Thank you CNN, and thank you Eric Marrapodi and Brian Todd for excellent journalism. This was a great article about the new Mormon temple, and I appreciate you bringing it to light here and for your objectivity and getting the facts right about the Mormon church in almost every way. I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you!

    April 7, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • KMAN821

      What horse s***!

      April 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • brandon

      Do you have the facts right about the Mormon "chuch"?

      April 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  20. Kenjitheman

    The mormon church was the greatest thing to happen to mankind since sliced bread. That's why the liberal agenda CNN is doing a story on it and so many people hate it. It's too much of a good thing all at once for every one to comprehend. Think about it, a free hot tub, different woman every day of the week and all we have to do is go to church on sundays. What more could you want?

    April 7, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • biologixco

      10 ugly wives and a handful of dirt to eat on Planet Kolob!
      Nanoo nanoo.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • LMB

      "A free hot tub and a different woman every night". Spoken like a true ignoramous. Intelligent people will see it for what it is.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:02 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.