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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. Sane

    What are we Egyptians ar Americans? This whole Temple building and living prophets thing is just fine if that is your cup of tea, but dont ask me to vote for a man who believes this.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Michael

      Who do you plan to vote for, then? All of the Republican candidates, as well as President Obama, are Christians, who believe in the Old Testament, which is *full* of history and stories of the building of temples and the worship services performed within. Jesus took great care (with a whip, at one point) with regard to the sacredness of the temple in Jerusalem.

      If you don't like Romney's politics, fine - don't vote for him. But his belief in temples shouldn't disqualify any more than any other Christian or Jewish candidate.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Sane

      I will take the less of two evils micheal, Obama. Who do you plan to vote for? Whe all know why. Whats the diffrence between me excluding him and you voting for all because of his religion. Dont dare pull the "bigot" card either. Those in glass houses should not throw stones.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Michael

      Sane: You're going to need to find someone else to argue with, because you've made some assumptions about me that are incorrect.

      1) I supported McCain over Romney in the 2008 primary election. Then I voted for Obama in the general election. I think he's been a reasonably good president, and I will vote for him again if Romney doesn't soften his rhetoric on immigration *and* present a viable alternative to Obama's health care plan that still includes universal coverage.

      2) I agree that a Mormon voting for Romney because of his Mormonism is no better than a non-Mormon voting against him for his religion.

      3) Not voting for someone because you think their religious beliefs mean they're somehow less qualified to do the job is not bigotry, and I'd never have accused you of it.

      4) Your comment about choosing the "least of the evils" is totally reasonable. It acknowledges the fact that *all* the presidential candidates profess a certain amount of belief in the supernatura, but that, for some reason, you find Obama easier to deal with as a whole. It was an honest comment on your part, and resolved the *only* objection I had to your initial statement.

      So, let's set aside the assumption that my comment means I'm an unthinking, narrow-minded, Mormon sheep. :-) Other than that, I don't think we have a disagreement.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  2. Nemo

    The day I'll take religion serious is when I see less money in the Temples and more people above the poverty line. Play that "But we donate so much money to the world!" all you want, but if all those fancy mirrors and chandeliers went to the poor than the temple, you can't deny that would feed plenty of people.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Brandon

      I'm sorry, who is starving again? Who in America does not have a HDTV and a Smartphone? ...yeah...that's what I thought. We don't have poor, we have uneducated people that don't know how to manage money.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • cisom

      Nemo,

      You sound just like Judas when he complained about the value of the oil spent to anoint the Savior's head.

      The church has the most legit. welfare program in the world. Also has a perpetual education system that grants low interest loans in 3rd world countries for trade programs. One of the biggest selling point for me on the church is how they attend to the poor.

      I dare say most members of the church spend way more time and money supporting the poor than you do. The church does proportionately more for than the poor than any organization you participate in. Just be careful as "what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you." Matt 7:2

      April 7, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  3. JustsaynotoRomney

    That building looks very similar to the one Warren Jeffs built in Texas.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  4. MikeB

    I'm game. Let's cover all the bases of possible salvation.
    But the living need to have their wishes respected concerning their ancestors. If it turns out that they failed to do their part for their ancestors then that is their right and accounting. God is about mercy and will make accommodations according to what is just.
    We must also consider the living's desire for the Spiritual welfare of their ancestors.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  5. tony

    What the difference between 137 Temples and a Pyramid Scheme?

    April 7, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • MikeB

      Apparently what ever you want to make of it.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • tony

      Wrong answer MikeB. Pyramid schemes aren't TAX exempt.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • MikeB

      Let's see. They provided more in charity to disaster stricken areas and nations than what would have been paid in taxes. I would consider that an efficient way to benefit from other peoples money.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  6. tony

    The hoarding of survival supplies does not bode well for the rest of us. I don't think sharing withe rest of "god's children" is part part of the mantra

    April 7, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Michael

      Tony: Wrong. Storage of food and emergency supplies for the use of your family and your neighbors - Mormons or not - is actively taught within the church. If you were in a town hit by a natural disaster, you'd be lucky to be neighbors with a Mormon who's been living this part of their church's teachings.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • tony

      I was made homeless iin the middle of the Loma Prieta Quake. It wasn't the Mormons who came round and helped

      April 7, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • MikeB

      Oh to the contrary. These would be those that wouldn't be looting the stores when disaster hits. Thus leaving us with what is on the shelves. And if we know what please and thank you are, then they may share with those that aren't hostile.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  7. Mark

    There are only two real religions. One is Budhism and the other is the Orthodox Christianity. The rest is all fakery. The reason I say this, is because when you go to a Budhdhist temple, you just feel otherwordly energy inside it. You can't explain it until you feel it for yourself. Same as when I went to that Jerusalem Orthodox church and the Greek monasteries on Mount Athos. Something you don't feel in any Baptist church, Mormon or Catholic church. There is a difference between otherwordly presence and an average regular building. When you visit the real holly buildings and sites, you just know there is God. I also went to mosques, even Mecca. When I was in Jerusalem I went to Jewish sites. I was in Vatican. Its just empty feeling in those others for some reason. And I am not even religious. I don't believe in all that, but I just believe there is some sort of deity watching over us for sure. You can feel the presence in real temples and churches.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  8. JustsaynotoRomney

    On the eve of the Christian faith's holyest day, CNN runs an article on the Mormons. Digsusting.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Michael

      This apparently disgusts you because, in your view, Mormons don't qualify as Christians. That's fine. But Easter is the holiest day of the year for Mormons as well, regardless of your narrow definition of Christianity.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  9. Jake90

    God: You have now received a proxy baptism from a Mormon, so you are not Jewish anymore. Proceed to heaven!
    Jesus: It's about time!

    April 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  10. Pipe-Dreamer

    Mormonism is to me at odds with the Goepels of the Holy Bible. To take more than one wife is a falsehood within the Scriptures of the Truths. Such a religion for having more than one wife or even more than one husband is plainly blasphemous cyanide in God's Commandments. I shudder in unpleasent thoughts about such things that mormonists are doing against one man one woman consecration. Yes the ancients of old were of more than one wife to a man but L F I no should we not turn assunder that which was once a matter of philosophic diplomacies regarding more than one wife to a custom(er)?

    April 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Alan

      So Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Mosses and many other biblical prophets don't follow the teachings of the Bible?

      April 7, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  11. Show Us Your Skivies

    Did anybody see the "funny undies'? Why the secrecy? If it looks like a cult, acts like a cult and discriminates like a cult, it's a cult!

    April 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Brandon

      I think someone needs to read up on what a cult actually is...Moses wore "funny undies too" ...ignorant troll it ignorant.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  12. David Wingate

    More pictures of temples from around the world (including a few of the Kansas City temple while it was under construction) are available at http://temples.lds.org/. There's also a nice explanation of their purpose.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  13. really

    You should all invest a little time searching for the truth about religions before stating untrue facts, some which are just hilarious. The video posted above is completely untrue and not what mormons believe in at all. We do not believe in the palnet kolob...ive been a member for years of this church and its ridiculous. Mormons do not have secret handshakes as one posted above we shake hands like any other human would, no secret rituals, and as for polygamy we also do not practice that. A group who broke off from the church are the ones who have many wives. My mother and father have been married for 35 years....one dad and one mom i promise you. So before you go bashing other churches or someones beliefs why dont you read or talk to a member of the church and i assure you the people in this faith are good, hardworking, tax paying americans who believe in the same god as baptist, methodist and any other christian based church. We are not made to give 10 percent of paychecks. Just like other churches have collection plates passed around....same goes here only its not made public so everyone in church can see how much you donate its done in private. one dollar or one hundred dollars is appreciated. Its so funny to be called a cult we sing songs, have speakers and pray just like everyone else. So before you go hating on people for a belief actually read into it and not post videos from youtube...grow up.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • James

      Are you saying you don't believe in the Pearl of Great Price? In that case you must believe that Joseph Smith was a conman.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      @ really,,,,,,

      Is not Mormonism an offshoot of the Latter Day Saints? I am but a low rated scholar regarding the varying denomonations of this world's domesticative religions around Monotheism.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • myeasyrecipebox

      @pipe-dreamer
      Not quite. Mormonism is just a nickname of the religion. The church's actual name being "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints". The nickname derived from "The Book of Mormon", used as a second scriptural testament to be used in conjunction with the bible to teach the full gospel.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Sandhammaren

      How many wives did Joseph Smith have? I thought polygamy was the reason that his followers were driven to settle in Utah. How about the hierarchy in heaven, can one elevate oneself to higher status there, e.g., become more god-like? A bit in the direction of polytheism-? It's not really Christianity, is it-more like a homegrown American religion.

      April 7, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  14. chaz

    I used to be mormon...and wanted to say thank god I left while I was still young! The whole religion cult is a fuk*n JOKE!

    April 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • tony

      Nope! It's a terrific Marketing Scheme. 10% of everyone else's is mine . . . .

      April 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  15. Whatever

    I lost the woman I cared for the most to this cult. It makes me sad everyday. I just wish there was something I could do.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Ken

      Then you fKKK a non-Mormon!

      April 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      vote for ron paul then!

      April 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Brandon

      “Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)

      April 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  16. buffalo

    Oh, look at the jolly Mormon chortling outside his overblown and overbuilt "temple" to the Cosmic Muffin-in-the Sky. Mormonism-Minorities or women need not apply. Sickening.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Brandon

      So it is sickening to honor God with a house built...well...for a God? Hmmm....

      April 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • yetanotherbob

      Minorities and Women apply every day. They get accepted too! It's obvious that a lot of what you think you know is just not so.

      As Yoda said "Unlearn, heh heh!"

      April 10, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  17. coastlinecascot

    If you ever driven through Utah. You would have to admire how Utah is clean and up kept. I travel there for business and never ever see trash or graffitti.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • buffalo

      Yes, littering is punishable by 50 lashes. And we sweep and vacuum Utah on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • DCKeene

      If I am not mistaken, the air in Salt Lake is one of the most polluted in the nation...

      April 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • ale biglio

      Salt Lake City is one of the worst place to live in all the US (and there are lots!), there's smog any time of the year at any time of the day.....

      April 7, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  18. thes33k3r

    There's no honest way to dispute that Mormonism is a cult. I recommend 'Under the Banner of Heaven' by Jon Krakauer. Ironically, I just finished reading it an hour ago.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • coastlinecascot

      Isnt all of them a cult. The hate church of jeremehi wright, Obmas church is a one of the worst.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Robert

      If you would spend an equal amount of time reading literature provided by the Church itself, instead of just the propaganda against it, you would find a far different mindset. I would encourage you to read the Book of Mormon honestly, from cover to cover. I joined the church 30 years ago, and have never regretted it once. It was the best thing I ever did.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • James

      Why would I read a book recommended by someone who doesn't even know what irony is?

      April 7, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • ale biglio

      I read the Book of Mormon and I read Scientology....no difference between the two, one is just where mormonism was 100 years ago. both are cults, like most religions.their "prophets" are just charlatans and con men.....

      April 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  19. Mgguzman30

    This is one of the worse religion sects in the USA

    April 7, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • coastlinecascot

      The worst? Their clean and really on one of another not for help. Most mormons are upper middle class and donate to chrity. So take your opinion and directed at the Nation of Islam thugs.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      they only scratch each others backs. To get help from one you must become one. Unlike catholic charities

      April 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • tony

      10% for the select few iisn't a charity, it's a war chest.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • DCKeene

      @coastlinecascot...you are proving the Mormons are intolerant and hateful. Please go crawl under your temple and keep quiet.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  20. Dallas

    If there were temples in biblical times, why wouldn't there be temples in modern times? Isn't God the same "yesterday, today, and forever"? Yes, He is. And that explains why the mormons build temples.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • tony

      So which Jesus story is the true one? The others must be lies then. But there are so many different ones.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • vpaulsmithjr

      Exactly. People like to throw around the 'yesterday, today, forever' thing all the time…when it suits them. Then, in cases like Temples, they suddenly forget that bit. They also tend to brush that aside when it comes to additional scripture and modern day revelation. Somehow God just ceases to be the same. Hmm.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • ale biglio

      If there is a supreme being it's probably someone that evolved much before us, from the older suns in the center of the galaxy, maybe once visited earth and left, sooner or later we will realize that we are worshiping just someone that comes from an older civilization, like the Atzetcs with the Spaniards.......
      But, WAIT, there a solution, you don't believe in evolution so it has to be God!

      April 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • The Truth72

      Isaiah 43:10 Tells us there is NO Other God..or Gods formed-Only Jehovah (psalms 83-18), contrary to what the Mormons teach., John 4:23 Jesus clearly states we will worship the Father in spirit not a "temple or temples" Acts 17:24 . If you really want the TRUTH you can find it in the Bible . I realize this post is late, I normally don't post things on line but this needed to be posted. Jesus is the only begotten son of God, He is the truth the way and the life. he died and was resurrected, He is now King. remember not everyone professing this is sent by God and to test every expression.

      June 23, 2012 at 3:06 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.