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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. barney

    Magic underwear. Discrimination against women. Hidden golden tablets. A massacre of setttlers (look it up) ordered by brigham young.
    Heaven in Missouri!

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

      Don't forget about Planet Kolob and the 10 ugly wives!

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

      Mormons: Please don't baptize me after I die for posting!!!!

      April 7, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Popparollo

      How did Americans of African lineage feel when Southern Baptists donned their white robes when they attended their Klan rallies on Friday and Saturday nights?

      April 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  2. Blake Jensen

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpFhS0dAduc&w=640&h=390]

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

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuSde2jGhm8&w=640&h=390]

      April 7, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  3. Pipe-Dreamer

    Where do you say the Kingdom of God is located? Where do you say are God's buildings located?

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

      No God = no Kingdom of God = no buildings of God.

      Next.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  4. Pipe-Dreamer

    Where do you say the Kingdom of God is located? Where do you say are God's building located?

    April 7, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  5. Jt_flyer

    I'm not a religious man but if I were going to choose team to gamble eternity on, it would not be these people. How did civilization survive for the 8000 years before the mormons? I think you people are dreaming.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  6. biologixco

    Dear God:
    Please save our country from mittens romney and the lds

    April 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  7. Julie

    Am I the only one that thinks this story was supposed to manipulate us into thinking that Mormonism is a mainstream Christian religion? All for the sake of making Romney seem more mainstream? Did it work America? ALSO - you may even link Mormonism with Christianity, especially since the story came out on Easter weekend. Were you fooled America?

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

      I was fooled into joining that cult as a teen, but I'm not fooled now. As for Romney, I'm not going to vote for him. I supported Obama in '08 but now realize that was a dreadful mistake. I'm going to vote for Santorum if he remains in the race. Right now I'm not sure how that will work out, especially with his daughter being in the hospital again. We need to pray for Bella Santorum's recovery.

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

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not a cult. Are you sure the church you attend is not a cult?

      April 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  8. sparknut

    Do they allow African American people into the temple? Or do they still consider the color of their skin punishment for something they did before they were born on Earth?

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

      I would assume that if African-American males are now allowed to hold the priesthood, that they can enter the temples as well. I don't know as I'm no longer a mormon.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Dave

      the answer to your questions, in order, are yes and no

      April 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  9. Erik

    Organized religion= Corruption and dogmatic behavior. Why have more people die due to religious causes than any other?? Because in religion the closed minds spout doctrine that basically says my way or the highway. WHen a conversation has as it's rationale "Because God told me to /..." The mind is closed as the mouth opens.

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

      How many die in abortion clinics in the name of the Secular Church?

      April 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Popparollo

      What religion was Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot?...shall I go on?

      April 7, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  10. barney

    Sorry Karl but no man (or woman) can claim authority from god.
    Read the book of Mormon. It is perverse and very poorly written.

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

      Really?!?- Do you carry the same disdain for the Bible?

      April 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  11. Jim

    I read wth amazement the ridicule from those who know very little about the Mormon Church, if anything except what they have been taught by those pastors of other faiths who also do not know anything about the real beliefs and practices of members of a Restored Church, done under the direction of God, the Father. The LDS Church believes in and preached Christ is the central figure head of the Church and it is to Him that members look for peace and salvation. Just because someone practices their religion different from others does not give everyone an "open season" to spout hatred for those whom they know nothing about. As members of the Mormon church, we believe in granting to all mankind the right and privilege to worship how and where they wish. It would seem reasonable if the rest of the world would adopt that same philosophy. The day will come when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God, our Savior and Redeemer. If one will read and ponder the teachings and true origins of the LDS faith you may be surprised at what you can really learn and the peach and happiness you can find.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • mark schmitz

      Jim, your religion is cruel. The LDS people won't allow the bride or grooms parents, siblings etc, into the temple for a marriage unless your part of the silly club. I'll make sure the rest of America knows that every chance I get, while Mitt the flip-flop is running for president. It is the only religion I'm aware of that hides marriage vows from relatives. I live in SLC. I know how wierd the LDS people are, because, after all, the LDS are the only true religion.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Popparollo

      Well said!

      April 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • Popparollo

      Jim, Well said!!

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

    Jesus didn't come from Kolob.
    mittens romney did.
    Anybody, but ROMNEY 2012!

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

      SATAN 2012!! \m/ \m/

      Well, you did say anybody.

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

      Get real.

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

      Howard Stern 2012!!

      Better?

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

      Howard? Yeah!
      I'd even vote for a DOG before voting for mittens romney.

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

      Snoop Dog 2012!!

      April 7, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Popparollo

      Where did Jesus' spirit come from?

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

      @Popparollo
      "Where did Jesus' spirit come from?"

      Someone hasn't been keeping up with their non-fiction reading.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  13. AnnieM

    The reason there are so many crazy religions is because they were all created by crazy people...

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

      Drugs were legal back then. ;)

      April 7, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  14. Bored by biased media! Journalism today sucks!

    Wow CNN the Mormon Church has hundreds of temples around the world and I have NEVER seen one of their openings EVER on the front page of CNN!!! The Liberal Media is at it again. Somehow you forgot the front page for ANYTHING regarding Obama's religion. Get mad America and get out and vote against Liberal America!

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

      Blah Blah Blah – Sarah Palin sure seems to have changed her tune on the lame Stream Media – could it be money? What do you think?

      April 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Bored by biased media! Journalism today sucks!

      Blah, blah, blah on you... Journalism USED to be about truth! Now it is about someone's personal agenda :(

      April 8, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  15. jack leddy

    Before you go thinking that the Mormons are the craziest people on the planet check what millions of Catholics say they believe: the priest says "Hoc est enim corpus meum" (this is my body) over a piece of bread and that piece of bread becomes the creator of the universe. That piece of bread is the creator of the billion gallaxy universe. And they bow down on two knees and adore it, at Benediction services. As Jack Parr use to say, "I kid you not"'

    April 7, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  16. SeattleMark952

    Why is everyone so angry at religious people? Yes, there are a few crazy people in any group. I've been able to find lots of good people anywhere I've lived (both believers and non-believers). No reason to attack each other for trying find and follow a positive meaning in life and being true to ones convictions.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Bored by biased media! Journalism today sucks!

      Well said! The majority of the people are just trying to become better people :)

      April 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  17. Diana

    I don't know if links are allowed here, but I'm posting this to illustrate my point about how the mormons used to forbid African-American males to hold the priesthood. Here's a video from YouTube of part of an interview Barbara Walters did with Donny and Marie Osmond, where they talk about African-Americans not having the priesthood, and also briefly discussed the role of women in the home. This must have been taped just before the cult made the change about priesthood eligibility: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuSde2jGhm8

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

      Um!! I Saw this on youtube so that makes it so way true..... Everything I watch is like um true.... Sheeple!

      April 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  18. William Parish

    I found a great 1 hour interview with with Scott Gordon, who has served as a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), holds an MBA from Brigham Young University, and serves as president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research. Really interesting: http://j.mp/IbxaV9

    April 7, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  19. Deborah

    I wonder what God thinks about a temple that is closed to all but a chosen few? I always believed God's house was open to everyone. Hmmm.....

    April 7, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Popparollo

      Our Churches are open to everyone

      April 7, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • toaster

      Yeah, just like in the times of Christ, when Gentiles weren't allowed in the temples in Jerusalem.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • Jake

      Historically, by Judea-Christian tradition, that is not the case. Reread the Bible, even in the New Testament, the inner temple is sacred and not open to the public.

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

      Deborah, I don't see what the big deal is – "God's house" – however you define that, has always been limited in attendance. Jews go to synagogues, Catholics go to cathedrals, Muslims go to mosques, Mormons go to temples. Even in the Old Testament, non-Jews attempting to enter the temple were killed. As another poster mentions, this practice continued up until the time of Christ. The only reason Jesus was allowed into the temple in Jerusalem was because he was, in all actuality, Jewish.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • EventHorizon

      Mormon chapels and meetinghouses are open to visitors. Also, the temple grounds, visitor's center, and a waiting room are open to visitors.

      If you don't think there's a worthiness precedent for sacred places, I suggest paying a bit more attention when reading your bible. Specifically the parts about the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and in Solomon's Temple.

      April 7, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  20. karl

    WOW! What a hateful and hopeless band of closed-minded egotist. I was a Catholic for 22 years, and now a Mormon for 49. The Mormon church and its teachings and practices have made me a much better person than I was going to be. It is the most Christian of all churches, has the actual priesthood authority to act in the name of God, and does so magnificently in the best interest of all men. Open your eyes, ears, and hearts to its gospel teachings, the Savior's, and save yourselves from this tragic mess that we have created with our hard hearts and closed minds. God Bless all of us.....we need it.

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

      Karl thanks for the testimony but your not helping!

      April 7, 2012 at 7:10 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.