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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. pouchman27

    Only inside the temple can mormons horns pop out of their head. That's why it is secret. It's a magnetized field that pulls the horns out and allows the members to devil worship in their true attire. I don't want the next POTUS to have horns.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • soundnfury

      This is so ridiculous, it's almost funny. It's also absolutely false.

      April 9, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • biologixco

      Mormons dont want people to know this.
      Its part of their little secret Americans need to know about.

      April 10, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  2. JErry

    I heard from a mormon friend that the sealing room is where the bride and groom "do it" under the watchful eyes of god and the officiant. It is to see if they have been living according to the teachings...in other words...is she still a virgin?

    April 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  3. Myron

    Jesus said:
    (New Testament | Matthew 7:15 – 16)
    15 ¶ Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
    16 Ye shall know them by their fruits.

    Paul wrote:
    (New Testament | Galatians 5:22 – 23)
    22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
    23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

    Paul also wrote:
    (New Testament | Galatians 5:19 – 21)
    19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; …
    20 … hatred, variance [discord], emulations [jealous rivalry], wrath, strife, …
    21 Envyings, … and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  4. Mojonaamdi

    Wait a minute. So with Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques, it's not a sacred thing and just about anyone could enter but with teh Mormon Temple, it's supposed to be sacred? Imagine, if an Imam says that nobody can enter unless you have a special card signed by some mullah, we would all be up in arms. Imagine if you needed a special card to get into a Church. Imagine if your daughter is getting married in a Mormon Church and you cannot enter because you have no card. Ha! Some kind of religion. Guess not all are created equal in their doctrine.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • heguido

      Did you read the Bible? Could anyone enter the Tabernacle, or later the Temple? If other churches call 'temple' what is biblically not, it's not 'mormons' fault.

      April 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • heguido

      Did you read the Bible? Could anyone enter the Tabernacle, or later the Temple? If other churches call 'temple' what is biblically not, it's not mormons' fault.

      April 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  5. heguido

    I can understand unlearned bigotry, but people commenting here know too well they are lying when they criticize 'mormon' beliefs.
    Just one example: Almost every grown up man in the LDS church is either an Elder or a High Priest, so there is nothing 'special' about Romney being one. They obviously know that, but they try to present it as like Romney is one of the 'leaders' of the church.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  6. Jesus

    Just like every other cult that says distorts Jesus divinity.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  7. canucken

    When they opened the Temple in Lake Oswego, OR about 16 years ago it was open to the public for one or two days as well. After that they ripped all of the carpet out as it was defiled by non-Mormons. Apparently us non-believers of Mormonism are to filthy for them to walk on the same carpet in their lovely new digs.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • just sayin

      You are just a dog unless you are a Mormon

      April 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • biologixco

      Get out of here you canuck this is an american discussion. nobody cares about your opinion

      April 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Ben

      Or they ripped it out because it got dirty.

      April 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • biologixco

      Now here is an example of mormon dishonesty.
      Trying to say you are biologixco by impersonating me.
      We Americans love canucks. Best friends we have in this world. And its important to note that the mormon cult is active in Canada too. Warn your sons and daughters. CANADIANS ARE OUR FRIENDS AND WE SHOULD CARE WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  8. rosie

    Nice to see they hid the baby BBQ's. They do steal children and eat them. I know, my dog told me (although I don't have a dog).

    April 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  9. Bob

    In the Bible, the apostle records Jesus' response to the Pharisees when the Lord said, "in the resurrection they are neither married nor are they given in marriage." That statement by Jesus annihilates one of the main tenants of Mormonism and by which Mormonism stands or falls. (Their whole plan of salvation for women requires marriage in the afterlife to a Mormon man… kind of convenient for the men, don’t’cha think?) It's clear to anyone who has not been brainwashed, that Mormonism was the creation of the charlatan Joe Smith and not a revelation by God. Joe Smith was a false prophet, nothing more and certainly nothing less. And by the way Mormons, this is not persecution. It's the truth.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Anna

      Bob–you're gonna believe what you want to believe, and so am I. One of the main tenets of the Mormon faith is continuing revelation–we believe that God still speaks to us today. Another is personal revelation–that God will reveal truth to anyone who studies it out and prays about it. I know for myself that these things are true. Just because you don't agree doesn't mean you have to be disrespectful. I'm just saying'...

      April 10, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • biologixco

      Bob, thanks for the honest critique. They seem to create their own reality to try to deflect criticism.
      You would think they would be on their knees in prayer to save their souls for subscribing to blasphemy.
      God has a special place for false prophets and their followers.

      April 10, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  10. Bob

    They had to wear the white booties so the non-Mormons didn't defile their temple... or at least that's how they see it. The fact remains, Mormonism is a cult.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • just sayin

      What is funny is the origins of Mormonism comes from a criminal and con man. He even stole from the Mason's..the temple design and even the oath. It doesn't take much research to find this out. Of course like Christians they don't dare question their wishful thinking and look outside the box.

      April 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • heguido

      Is the concept of 'keep the carpets clean' to difficult for you to understand?

      April 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Webster

      heguido,

      Is the difference between 'to' and 'too' too hard for you to understand?

      April 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • heguido

      Sorry, Webster. English is not my mother tongue. Send my regards to Merriam.

      April 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  11. biologixco

    My posts are the product of brain washing can you blame me?

    April 9, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • biologixco

      Yup. BRAINWASHED.
      The MORMONS got to me.
      HAAAALP!

      April 10, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  12. just sayin

    The fact that a grown man wears "magical underoos" should disqualify him.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • biologixco

      The big questions is: DOES MITT ROMNEY WEAR THE MAGIC UNDEROOS?
      America wants to know!

      April 10, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  13. matt

    Dear Mormons,

    You claim that you give as much validity to the Holy Bible as you do to the Book of Mormon. Well, since you give such credence to the Bible, perhaps it's time for you to heed a verse that was written just for you by the Apostle Paul. Galatians 1: 8-10.
    But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

    Paul thought this to be so hugely important that he even repeats himself. Staggering!

    April 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Ben

      You're only problem is this, the Mormons profess the SAME gospel. Not some "other" one. Believe in Christ. He is the Savior. Do good works, repent if you have done something bad. That sounds pretty similar to what the bible preaches.

      April 9, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  14. mishu

    Nice and very exclusive...In all realms of Christianity, church doors are opened to all.
    You must be a Mormon to walk through those doors.
    How old is this "religion"?

    April 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  15. NoWay

    I for one, do NOT want to see my next President walking out of a Mormon Ward, Stake, or Temple on Sunday mornings. If Mitt Romney believes this rubbish, he does NOT have the reasoning skills needed to guide the greatest nation in the world. What happens if the Mormon President (Prophet) gets a "prophecy" that Mitt must then follow because he is a "good" Mormon in "good standing?" Who will control the White House? The Mormon President? To learn more about Mormonism from a non-religious, fact-finding journalist, read Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. Don't let ignorance rule.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  16. Dman

    @biologixco
    I'm reading all your comments and for some reason I'm envisioning Elmer Fudd.. I had some laughs and for that I thank you. P.S I'm not a Mormon, but I don't care what they believe or what "magical undies" they wear.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • biologixco

      I read you comments here and I'm envisioning a cult. An evil one, just like Scientology.
      And PS: You ARE a mormon. And a dishonest one at that!
      You are no longer pure. You better pray to Kolob for forgiveness. And change those magic undies while you are at it, they are no longer clean.

      April 10, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  17. biologixco

    I think I lost it when I sat my big behind in front of the computer all day to talk to y'all since no one else will talk to me

    April 9, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • biologixco

      Mormon dishonesty at work here.
      Trying to impersonate my writings.
      What happened boys? Touch a little mormon nerve too hard.
      Thats what happens when you criticize a CULT.

      April 10, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • biologixco

      Y'all? Uh-oh. A hillbilly mormon trying to impersonate me.

      April 10, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  18. robert frost

    Ban the Mormons and save the children

    April 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  19. biollogixco

    All I am sorry I made so many stupid comments today. I have a an easter egg stuck you know where...

    April 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • biologixco

      IM NOT SORRY AT ALL!
      IT IS DISHONEST TO TRY TO IMPERSONATE ME.
      THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU CRITICIZE A CULT.
      MORMON DISHONESTY AT WORK HERE.

      April 10, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  20. DonnyB4

    Genius! Just rename your six-person jacuzzi as "a baptismal font" and suddenly it's tax deductable!

    April 9, 2012 at 5:21 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.