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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. Josef Bleaux

    Mormonism = Cult. End of story.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Will

      Yes, it is an organized riligion just like Catholics and those protestants who claim different beliefs from their brothers and sisters. We just believe an angel brought the everlasting Gospel (Rev. 14:6-7).

      April 7, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • smadam1

      totally agree. weirdos, the lot of them.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Ryan in Miami

      Josef Bleaux = too ignorant to make an informed comment, end of story.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • JC in Western U.S.

      OK. We'll all believe it just because you said it. You are the one and only world authority. We need to look no further and think no more deeply because you have done all the thinking for us already. Sounds to me like you could start your own little cult. You have the perfect personality for it.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Dandini

      “…But this I admit to you, that according to the Way that they call a sect I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written by the prophets…" (Acts 23:14)... All 14 million us...

      ...and since when is a worldwide church with 14 plus million members and growing, in more than 160 countries, building one completely paid for chapel each week, called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a "cult"? That has over 55,000 full-time volunteer (unpaid) missionaries around the world who teach to believe in Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God and born of a virgin, Mary, in Bethlehem, who sacrificed his life to atone for all mankind, is resurrected, lives, and is our Lord, Savior and Redeemer.

      April 7, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  2. EBNYC5054

    I visited the Mormon Temple in NYC a few years ago when before it was consecrated. I have visited churches – the strict and the progressive; synagogues; mosques; Buddhist temples. All were rather welcoming in their own way, and all of my experiences were pretty nice. The Mormon Temple in NYC that I visited was, for lack of better words – strange. They showed us the dressing rooms, where people put on robes before the service so that all could be equal. They showed us the wedding room, which was not very festive. There is a room that had an artist's depiction of heaven. (It looked like a forest in upstate New York – water stream. I think a deer or two in the background.) I was bothered by the tour guide's explanation that they could baptize people after death. He said this is done so that families could regroup in heaven. There were members of the church all over the place with the same smile – very friendly and very happy. They even gave us cookies and juice after the tour. Still, there was something "sterile" about the whole event. Smiles, but no joy. They were quick to tell me (several times) that Blacks were allowed into heaven. (This is something new.) They showed us a film with Mormons of all ethnicities, just happy as clams. They do have an interesting outreach. I know a person who was homeless. They kept offering to bring him to church, give him carfare and help him find social services. they were rather persistent. Still, there was no joy.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Diana

      The mormons also teach salvation by works....which is totally contrary to Scripture. Baptism is commanded by God but not necessary for salvation. We need only to believe in Jesus Christ and accept Him as our Lord and Savior. Baptism comes after that.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Dandini

      You must be just a "joyless" type of person...

      April 7, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • funkylovemonkey

      Those of African descent were never considered to be unable to 'enter heaven,' as you claim. The issue was whether they could hold the Priesthood which is required for leadership. And the issue was resolved four decades ago, not recently. When I was a teenager twenty years ago I had a black Bishop. For most Mormons this is ancient history.

      And how exactly do you judge people's 'joy'? Is there some sort of litmus test to gauge that?

      You're right though, temples are not flashy. Most of the rooms are white and simple. The intent is not to distract you from your purpose there, which is ultimately peaceful meditation and communion with God.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Ryan in Miami

      @ Diana, NO!!! You misunderstand LDS doctrine. Mormons believe that salvation only comes from Jesus Christ (Period). However, Mormons also pay attention to Mathew 7:21 which says: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."

      April 7, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Will

      Diana, James taught faith without works is dead. In other words, faith is action. You show your faith by following the teachings of Jesus. " If ye love me, keep my commandments." said Jesus in John 14:15.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  3. Justin

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

    If you have a LDS temple opening near you. Please take the opportunity to attend.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • biologixco

      Sure, if you know the secret password!
      (and the secret password is...CULT!)

      April 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  4. aaron

    And watch them line up to vote for president a guy who's a member of a secretive cult that keeps its houses of worship off-limits to outsiders and many of its own members.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • TownC

      I know many Mormon's who wont vote for Mitt because of his politics. Mormons are more diverse than people think. Harry Reid is a Mormon. I doubt Mitt will get his vote.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • biologixco

      Let us get the word out:
      Anybody, but MITTENS ROMNEY 2012.

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

      Aaron, keep in mine that the house of Isreal kept their holy places off limits to the public because of the sacred rites they preformed to God of Heaven. Christian don't seem to practice these sacred rites to God so they find it strange for a religion to do so in this day and age.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • YeahOk

      Keith Ellison 2012!!

      April 7, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  5. JC in Western U.S.

    I'm a Democrat, born and raised (or maybe "baaarn and raised") into a Mormon family in Utah. I left that church as a young adult. And since I still live in Utah, I'm surrounded by people who are Mormon. I think I'm as qualified as anybody is to tell you about what Mormons are really like. If you're a liberal and hate Mormons, maybe you'll believe what a Democrat says. If you're a Republican and hate Mormons, you won't believe anything a Democrat says anyway, so I'm not out anything by trying to tell you the truth. Here's my message: Calm down and stop freaking out. Stop believing all the hogwash people write. Most of the people who confidently get on CNN and tell you with authority what Mormons believe have never met a Mormon and wouldn't know it if they had. I'm a LOT more worried about Romney being a Republican than I am about him being a Mormon. Mormons are like Wonder Bread. They're just kind of boring and unthreatening. There are some looney tunes Mormons (like Glenn Beck) but most of them are just regular people who have no vices except Jello and Ice Cream (the consumption of which puts Utah number 1 in the nation for both). Really, you need to be a lot more worried about Romney's politics than Romney's religion.

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

      Then why is the lds running the "im a mormon" television ad campaign?
      Its like the oil companies trying to convince us they are green corporate citizens on Sunday's Meet the Press.
      They know mittens is soooo close to the White House.
      But America will turn him away, just like lds teachings.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • EBNYC5054

      No joy. Boring, but not threatening.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  6. Mary

    Good. Churches, Temples, Mosques, and other houses of worship should not be turned into tourist traps where people can wander through taking photos and making them seem no more important than Disney World.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Ryan in Miami

      WARNING!!! Comments connected to stories having to do with religion may lack of any kind of civility, logic, reason, or educated insights. Reading the comment section, without a grain of salt, may make you as stupid and ignorant as the posters themselves.

      April 7, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Dandini

      Mary – LDS temples are only open for a short period of time, and then dedicated... Temples were usually constructed per God's direction... and then used for “sacred” activities, in the Holy Bible, why would that change? Ever since the Old Testament times holy places have always been "off limits" to those deemed unworthy. With Moses and the tribes of Israel, access to the temple was restricted, and only the Levites could enter the inner sanctum, and only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies. LDS meeting houses are open to all who choose to walk through the door, Temples on the other hand are not used for general/regular meetings/worship. Moses and the 10 commandments, Peter on the mount of transfiguration, all were on holy [sacred] ground and “separated” from the others. Every LDS Temple is open to the (hundreds of thousands of non-LDS around the world have seen the inside of an LDS Temple) public until it is dedicated (and again when they have been renovated/refurbished they are open to the general public for a period of time), and there are no changes made to them, aside from cleaning them, when they are put into use by worthy church members.

      April 7, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  7. Pipe-Dreamer

    Cultured and cultivated are all of civilizations' religions and all are made false for not preaching the Truth about God's Buildings and their whereabouts and the Truth about the Kingdom of God!

    April 7, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • biologixco

      Exactly! You got it right, bub.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  8. Diana

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FUxyEM_W5s&w=640&h=390]

    April 7, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Steve-In-MA

      Thanks, Diana. Many of the Mormons are very nice folks, but this notion that the LDS Church is a Christian Church is hoakum.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • TownC

      Asking a non Mormon what Mormons believe is like asking a Republican what the Democrats believe. Go to Mormon.org to find out the truth about Mormons and then make a judgment.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Diana

      "TownC" – I USED to be a Mormon! I know what I'm talking about. It is a cult, plain and simple. Even Romney believes this garbage....that Jesus and satan are brothers, that he (Romney) can become a god and make his own planet, and that God Himself is married.....and that Joseph Smith was a "prophet." Gmab.....I used to be one of them. I praise God that I left.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Steve-In-MA

      @TownC Many non-Mormons understand the teachings of your Church and can accurately compare them to other Churches. Diana is correct. The LDS Church is not a Christian Church.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  9. Juliet

    What else is new under the Sun, as King Solomon once said, a Plastic Card to gain entry to a temple of God and it is only valid for 2 yeras, do you get a discount if your a Costco Member? uumh a great question for the upcoming debate of Rommey for President. God Save America

    April 7, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • biologixco

      God save America from
      mittens romney and the lds!

      April 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  10. Bo Hinch

    Until you get your own testimony of the truthfulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and have read and began to understand The Book of Mormon, you will never et it. Our 11th article of faith says let each worship as they see fit. That is a summary, but the message is still clear. A Temple recommend is not hard to get, there are no secret rooms, just practices that do actually bring us closer to heavenly father. I look forward to being at the KC Temple on April 20th with my 3 daughters and and non member family and friends.

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

      God has a special place for false prophets and those that follow them...

      April 7, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • biologixco

      Deuteronomy 18:20

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

      "God has a special place for false prophets and those that follow them..."

      In make believe hell?

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

      NO! Banishment to Planet Kolob with 10 ugly wives and a handful of dirt to eat.

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

      Bo, when I was a mormon I was told that i I married in a mormon temple, that NONE of my relatives could be there if they were not mormons. Including my own mother!

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

      Amen! Let's show some respect for differing views. Go to Mormon.org for the truth about Mormons.

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

      Respect for heretical views wont get you anywhere in God's eyes...

      April 7, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • LynnC

      People (mainstream Christians included) always mock what they don't understand. But that's only because they don't take the time to learn the facts and don't want to possibly be proven wrong in their own beliefs by learning what's true or not of another group. This is true with any religion. Rather than mock, why not just learn what Mormons (or whatever religious group you're claiming is a "cult") is really about? But I guess that would take up too much of your time. Go ahead, make fun, it's the easy way out.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • biologixco

      Its easy to get starry eyed and get sucked into a cult huh?
      There's a reason those people were driven out of Nauvoo in 1840...

      April 7, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  11. YeahOk

    That's the sad irony of it.
    And that's why America needs to call out the lds!
    Nothing but a cult like scientology and islam... christianity...

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

      You plagiarized and misconstrued my words.

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

      You're not being complete biologixco.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  12. barney

    Hey hey we're the Monkees
    We can't stop monkeyin' around
    But we're too busy singing
    To put anybody down!

    April 7, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  13. Aaron

    Man, these people are as weird as Scientologist!

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

      Yup and as devious and dangerous as islam

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

      "Yup and as devious and dangerous as islam"

      You keep leaving out christianity.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  14. FightingForTheLord

    Marcion saves!

    April 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  15. Joe Illiinois

    You take a tour of a Temple and don't post pictures of the inside of it ? What kind of journalism is that? You said the Church provided you with pictures that were accurate. We'd like to see, but perhaps expecting too much from CNN Reporting. Guess I'll have to book a flight to Kansas and take a tour for myself.

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

      You keep on knockin, but you can't come in...

      April 7, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  16. FightingForTheLord

    Mormons go to Hell.

    Mitt Romney is influenced by the Devil.

    Catholics go to Hell as well.

    Baptists go to Hell.

    Presbyterian go to Hell.

    Marcionites go to Heaven; it seems many people have been in immense pain from our loving Lord.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  17. biologixco

    Planet Kolob? Hahahahahahahaha.
    Rolling on the floor!

    April 7, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  18. Radio grunt

    Has anyone heard of gay Mormons? What happens to those guys when they come out f the closet? And thier family? Do they void thier baptisms when the come out? Any gay Mormons pls sound off

    April 7, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  19. Yep

    Yep, how can so many wealthy and intelligent people be drawn into a group that has all the characteristics of a cult and not realize it.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Dave

      It is cause and effect, and you have it backwards.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  20. jpw2010

    People will believe in anything.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • biologixco

      That's the sad irony of it.
      And that's why America needs to call out the lds!
      Nothing but a cult like scientology and islam...

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

      I totally believe that too.

      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.