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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. zip

    The Church of latter Day Saints is not a religion, it is a cult. It is not a Christian church. Anyone who thinks so is committing blasphemy. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ walked in America in 1825. That is sacrilege. Mitt Romney will not be president. America does not elect cult members.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Sue

      Religion, cult, same difference.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Mormon4ever

      Wrong, wrong. wrong. Not even close. Not a good statement to bother to answer with a correction.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • David

      Does it not say in the Bible?

      John 10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

      Chirst is the savior for all mankind. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ and that He is Our Savior. Not only do we have the Bible as a testimony. We also have the Book of Mormon from the people of the America approx 2000 years ago.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • zip

      My Bible states that whoever changes the Bible is committing a sin. Which makes the book of Mormon blasphemous. Sorry I keep pointing out pesky little facts.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • jjp123

      @zip, The Book of Mormon isn't attempting to change the Bible. It's just another book that witnesses of Jesus Christ. Imagine if students tried to get through school with just one book. There would certainly still be some unanswered questions. The Book of Mormon is here to help us answer some of the unanswered questions left by the Bible. It also provides some clarifications. Additionally, the Bible actually has a messy history of which books to include, which books to leave out, how to translate this, how to interpret that. The Book of Mormon was translated to English by a Prophet of God, not by so-called scholars as was the Bible. So, it stands to reason that it would have fewer issues with which books were included, which ones were left out, which passages were translated correctly, and which ones were not. Of course, that's what the Mormon's believe. You certainly don't have to believe that. But, just because you don't believe it, doesn't mean it isn't true.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • jjp123

      @zip
      "Mormons believe that Jesus Christ walked in America in 1825. That is sacrilege." How can you possibly know the personal agenda and travel plans of Jesus Christ? It seems more like sacrilege that you would confine him to the heavens and not allow him to visit his followers. After all, even the Bible mentions instances of Jesus appearing to people and visiting them after his resurrection. Or do you only believe the parts of the Bible that support your opinions?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • elyse

      Oh hey zip, where exactly in "your" Bible does it say "that whoever changes the Bible is committing a sin?" Cause if you're referring to Revelation 22:18, John was actually referring to the book of Revelation itself, and only to the Book of Revelation. "This book" refers to the Book of Revelation. It wouldn't even make sense to say that he was referring to the entire Bible because the entire Bible was compiled much, much later than the Book of Revelation was written. Sorry to point out that pesky little fact. If you have another reference though, I'd love to hear it.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  2. JC

    I wish everyone questioning or speaking against the church would speak directly to a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints in order to know the true facts. regardless of what people think or say this work will move on and eventually everyone will know that the truth has been restored throught the prophet Joseph smith. may each one that has ears will hearken unto this words...

    April 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • tony

      They were raving nutters when they called on me and I asked the right questions.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Sue

      Did that, rejected the whole thing as obvious fraud and nonsense.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Texas

      JC, were not allowed in, remember? I would happily ask any mormon how their religion can fly in the face of transparency and the law???

      April 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  3. Devon

    So they dont allow anyone that is not white ,whiter, whitest to run their cult, Does that really make them so bad?

    April 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Brian

      I was invited to visit a Mormon church in North Carolina by the black minister himself. If we don't share their belief, that doesn't mean we can make ignorant comments about their church.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  4. Moroni

    It is a cult full of secrets. ask any ex-morman. They are NOT a christian religion but proclaim to the world they are. Go to one of their services. they belief in other things privately. such a crock of crap. all of it. educate yourselves without their propaganda.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • MikeB

      So you are saying that a Pastor that has a following by virtue of his/her charisma or pandering to those that want their ill will validated are not cults?

      April 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  5. Phoenix

    They are not a religion, they are a political fifth column to take over the world. Snakes. They have taken over much of civil service, particularly the FAA Flight Standards Operations sector far in excess of their numbers in the general population.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Sue

      Sounds just like a religion.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  6. The Fox

    I truly think the whole world is crazy......

    April 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • MikeB

      God is Great! Beer is Good. And People are Crazy.
      I like that song.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  7. AtheistDude

    these people are psychotic! just like muslims, other christians, jews and the craziest of them all the Bahai's and Scientologists I don't mind the buddhists though. They don't harm others

    April 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  8. What would our children think?

    Is Mormonism today's scapegoat? Just as we are shamed by the way past generations have treated minorities, our children are going to be ashamed at how we treat Mormons. I have never heard such ugly bigotry and slander toward any group. The way you people are talking of Mormons is revolting.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Lilybean58

      I agree. Unfortunately, our children are going to be ashamed of how we treat many people of many religions and cultures.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Justus

      Unfortunately, our children may not understand the concepts of morals, conscience, or ethics after we're through with this world.

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

      As Christians, it is our duty to speak out against cults. Mormons are not Christians. and anyone who thinks so will burn in hell.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Bryan

      Zip: I don't know what religion you practice, it doesn't matter to me–I respect your choice to worship as you choose. As a Mormon myself, I'm always puzzled when I am accused of not being a Christian. So, at least from THIS Mormon's perspective, here's how I feel about Christ: He is my Savior and my Redeemer. I accept Him with all my heart. Without his grace and his mercy, I would be lost. I am grateful for His life, for his example as he served others, and for His atonement for my sins. I know I'm not perfect and I make mistakes. I know that I will stand before him some day and be judged. I hope when that day comes, that I can tell him that I tried my best. That I showed love and compassion the best that I could, and tried to follow his example. In the meantime, I accept the great diversity that surrounds me as I interact with friends and neighbors. I respect what you have to say, but from my perspective and with what I know about our beliefs, I just had to share my thoughts with you. Thanks for listening.

      April 7, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  9. John Smith

    LDS is on LSD.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  10. tony

    Romney can't be President then. If no non-member of the church can accompany him into church for his worship, how can the Secret Service Protect him at that time?. We can't force government employees to have a particular religion.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • tony

      And any gov't business he "accidentally conducts while in a temple will be off the record for even Congress and the Supreme Court.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Rod

      It seems you don't know the difference between a meetinghouse and a temple. He can go to church whenever he likes and can take his secret service with him. On the certain occaisions when he goes to the temple I'm sure the secret service can accomodate him.

      April 10, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  11. mtillerco

    Another reason why we will never elect Mitt Romney, this cult scares people and frankly, after the FLDS/ Warren Jeff's issues, we don't want this.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • jjp123

      As you accurately state in your post, Warren Jeffs is not LDS. He is a member of a different church. The FLDS members are to the LDS church what protestants are to the Catholic church. Some day perhaps people will figure that out.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • David

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has nothing to do with the FLDS and Warren Jeffs.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Jared

      Warren may not be LDS but the founder of LDS Joseph was a polygamist, adulterer and not a Christian, He was a a scam artist that started a false religion I am not speaking from a religious context just a historical one. I find it illogical for any mormon to claim to be a Christian since their religion was founded by Smith. A false prophet and clever scam artist.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Jared

      Warren may not be LDS but the founder of LDS Joseph was a polygamist, adulterer and not a Christian, He was a a scam artist that started a false religion I am not speaking from a religious context just a historical one. I find it illogical for any mormon to claim to be a Christian since their religion was founded by Smith. A false prophet and clever scam artist

      April 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  12. Mack

    People: The phrase " just sayin' " is getting tiresome and never was all that clever. Move on.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  13. Lilybean58

    I don't understand why people have to criticize other religious beliefs. If you don't believe what someone else does, then okay. But why is it necessary to post mean, hateful things about what someone else believes? I just don't get it. Maybe I'm from the old school of thought that says "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." You can believe what you like and so can I and everyone else. It just is not necessary to be critical of others, especially in a country that was founded on religious freedom. I grew up with Mormons, though I am not one myself, and the friends I have that are LDS are loving and caring people who take care of others in need in their churches, and don't as for anything from anyone outside. If you are a Christian, this is exactly what you are supposed to do according to Scripture. That can't be said for many other Christian sects that I know of.

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

      Agree with the sentiment, although in your last sentence you do seem to be criticizing large groups of people with your generalization. Is that OK to do, then?

      April 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • tony

      Because it's all grooming directed at impressionable, unable to fully understand the implications, children. And the results have cause more wars and sufferering throughout history, that any other scourge.

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

      Aw shucks. I want to be kind, but I can't find Kolob in my Bible. Can you?? You friggin' kook!

      April 7, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • jjp123

      @zip You mean the Bible that talks about the children of Israel, God's chosen people, killing entire nations (men, women, and children) in order to clean out the area of THEIR promised land, just because they chose a different way of life? There is a lot in the bible that any religion would have trouble defending. Doesn't mean it's wrong. But there is certainly more to religion (anyone's religion) than just the Bible.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  14. Obscure Reference Woman

    A friend of mine got tickets for us to tour the Temple in Nauvoo, IL before its dedication. It was a very impressive building, and a replica of the original that was destroyed when the Mormons were driven west. I am not a Mormon, but the ones I've known over the years have been pretty cool people. I admire people of any faith who can truly live out the best of what they believe, even though I may not agree with all of their beliefs. I wish others could be as tolerant.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  15. Mike

    People will always be afraid of things they don't understand and ASSUME they are experts at. Stop being a bunch of keyboard commandos. Get an education and then make a comment. Don't just make a comment to boost your del confidence because you're as dumb as a donkey.

    I know 3 mormons and all three are under my command as Navy Seals. Most honest and loyal guys I know.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Sue

      In turn, you should educate yourself about anecdotal evidence.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • ReadtheBookofMormon

      Thanks Mike...CAPT Michael Patrick Taylor USN Ret.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  16. Mike

    A peak inside the Magic Mormon Underwear? Not that I want one.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • YeahOk

      Careful of what you wish for.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  17. Of Sound Mind ?

    Far be it from me to point fingers and call names. I say let people have freedom to be religous and believe in what they wish. There is no reason to hate or throw stones. Love they neighbor is a common theme amonst the manifistations/profits of God. The more we strive to love everyone maybe the more we can accomplish in our short, insignificant lives.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  18. Mormon4ever

    Respect to be respected. Even when other religion/people don't follow that. Very simple principle brother.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Sue

      M4E: People deserve respect. Ideas don't. Huge difference that you don't seem to get.

      Ideas should be criticized diligently. If that happened more often, we would have less religion.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • jjp123

      Sue,
      It must be sad to be you.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  19. Dallas

    If "God is not the author of confusion," then how do you explain the different religions across the globe? Well, the church Jesus established, as explained in Ephesians 4, was lost after Jesus's crucifixion and the apostles subsequent death; this falling away was prophesied of in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Years later, different creeds convened, like the Nicene Creed, to discuss what Jesus's doctrine is. This led to distortions of the gospel, which explains why many religions have some truth but lack the complete picture. Fortunately, God loves all his children and wants them to experience to most joy in life, For that reason, Jesus's full and complete gospel was restored to the earth, and that church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • just sayin

      The LDS is a cult founded by a con man in the early 1800s. There is nothing Biblical about the LDS, and the preferred texts are strictly fraudulent. The LDS has only recently adopted a more Christian type language in a vain attempt to legitimize their fraud by piggy backing on the True faith to deceive the unknowing and their own people as well. Television is more responsible for changes in Mormonism than anything else. Now with communications readily available deceptions in Mormonism are out there for the rank and file LDS to explore. Rather than risk exposure the LDS leadership opted to obscure their beliefs in a lethal theological mixture. Mormons are not Christians. God bless

      April 7, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Jared

      I find it always so hilarious when a Mormon claims that their religion is the one true church of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Elijah, Jesus tec etc...when in fact the founder of the Mormon church was a man who broke many of the ten commandments on a daily basis. Most notably, though shall not commit adultery and though shall not covet they neighbours wife. Not saying I believe any of the religions I find it just completely illogical for anyone to believe that the mormon church has any foundation in the church that Jesus founded. IF this was so, then Joseph Smith would not have been a habitual sinner. The more logical approach is that Smith was no more than a scam artist staring up his own religion to bring in millions for himself and so he could send off his neighbours on 'missionary' work while he went after their wives. The whole religion disgusts me and I feel sorry for those who have been brainwashed into believing any of the tall tales that Smith told his followers in order to have them believe he was a prophet and that he should practice polygamy cause god said so. Disgusting! To think that the next President could be a practising Mormon is also disgusting!

      April 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Jared

      I find it always so hilarious when a Mormon claims that their religion is the one true church of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Elijah, Jesus tec etc...when in fact the founder of the Mormon church was a man who broke many of the ten commandments on a daily basis. Most notably, though shall not commit adultery and though shall not covet they neighbours wife. Not saying I believe any of the religions I find it just completely illogical for anyone to believe that the mormon church has any foundation in the church that Jesus founded. IF this was so, then Joseph Smith would not have been a habitual sinner. The more logical approach is that Smith was no more than a scam artist staring up his own religion to bring in millions for himself and so he could send off his neighbours on 'missionary' work while he went after their wives. The whole religion disgusts me and I feel sorry for those who have been brainwashed into believing any of the tall tales that Smith told his followers in order to have them believe he was a prophet and that he should practice polygamy cause god said so. Disgusting!

      April 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Jared

      Hey Just Saying I agree with you 10000%!

      April 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  20. fran

    It would be interesting to know what this man's yearly salary is. . .

    April 7, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • MikeB

      Yes, it would be. He must have a lot of retirement money since he isn't getting paid by his church.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Lilybean58

      And that would be your business because? And what difference does it make anyway. Are you just being hateful for fun, or is it you natural state?

      April 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Sue

      All expenses paid.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Vinny

      It's a lay ministry

      April 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Mormon4ever

      His salary? Is his money. When I have that privilege (if) I'll donate everything I have to the church. The church will administrate that for me, and I'll live with that. That will be my 'salary'. We serve voluntary on everything we do at church. Ask your leader/pastor/priest if he/she can do that. Yes, that's correct no salary... That was one of the reasons I joined the church. i don't believe on a religion that pays a salary to a person to serve like Jesus did (for free).

      April 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • tony

      But you aren't serving LIKE Jesus. It's a whole different story you are following.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:50 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.