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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. biologixco

    Load the dog atop the car!
    Planet Kolob ain't too far!
    Poor little pooch up top the rooof?
    Thats why mormoons are so aloof!
    Like my little Romney spooof?
    Say NO to Romney2012!

    April 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Terri is right biologixco, she isn't being paid to stalk and attack people that she disagrees with on this chat board. She's doing it for free!

      April 24, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  2. biologixco

    Terri, Exactly how much does the LDS pay you to monitor this site?

    April 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • biologixco

      ***crickets***

      April 24, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Terri

      The LDS has lay ministry, not paid people. I am doing this entirely on my own.

      April 24, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  3. Terri

    BIOLOGIXCO, GET OFF THIS SITE, GET OUTSIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 24, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • biologixco

      Im the King of Me
      The King says :
      NO!

      April 24, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • biologixco

      Terri,
      Just because wife #2, #3 and #4 "got some" last night,
      And YOU didnt,
      You shouldn't blame me.
      Blame your husband!
      Blame your church!
      Blame your blasphemous faith!
      But dont blame li'l ol' mee
      tee hee

      April 24, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  4. Terri

    BIOLOGIXCO HAS NO LIFE. HE IS BEING PAID TO POST OUTRAGEOUS AND FALSE COMMENTS REGARDING MORMONS, ROMNEY, AND REPUBLICANS.

    CNN PLEASE BAN THIS IMBECILE.

    April 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • biologixco

      Terri, please reach into your pants and pull that bunched up wad of magic panties out of your crack.
      Please?

      April 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Ann

      Terri, you are a typical republitard mormon. You want to ban and stop anyone from speaking the truth or at least their own opinions. What a sad little creature you are!

      April 24, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  5. biologixco

    On a whole floor of a large building in Salt Lake City,
    Down at the end a long, quiet corridor,
    Sits the mormon LDS "War Room"
    This is where they try to control the message about mormons that the American voters see.
    This is where all of the "I'm a Mormon" commercials are shot
    And its where banks of computers have mormon follower robots that monitor blogs like this one
    Control the Message is the Mantra
    Read The White Horse Prophecy.
    Dont vote Romney 2012!
    Before its too late

    April 24, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Don't you have anything better to do with your life? Like actually having one?

      April 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • biologixco

      Terri sits at Terminal #3
      HawaiiGuest sits at terminal #4
      The LDS pays them to refute and dispute everything I say
      Obfuscation is the word of the day!

      April 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Nice try retard but I'm an atheist.

      April 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • biologixco

      LDS pays atheists too?
      I heard they just paid Joel Osteen $$$ to claim mormonism is Christianity
      I didnt buy it.
      Bet you didnt either...

      April 24, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      I could really care less what Osteen says. I don't even know any mormons, they don't come to my house anymore after I scared them away.

      April 24, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  6. Terri

    BIOLOGIXCO IS BEING PAID TO POST SCATHING COMMENTS REGARDING MORMONS, ROMNEY, AND REPUBLICANS.

    READ THROUGH THE COMMENTS AND YOU'LL SEE HE DOES THIS FOR A LIVING. WHAT A SICK WAY TO LIVE.

    April 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • biologixco

      Terri, your caps button is still stuck and you didnt go take your Prozac
      Bad girl

      April 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Uh oh! Everyone stand back! Terri, the new Linda Blair, is spewing splt-pea soup in all-caps again! Yeeeehaww!

      April 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • biologixco

      Poor Terri,
      Maybe something's wrong with you.
      That makes you act the way you do
      Im gonna soak up some sun
      Gonna tell everyone
      To lighten up
      Im gonna soak up some sun
      And have a little fun!

      April 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  7. biologixco

    Planet Kolob, Magic underwear?
    Maybe something's wrong with you
    That makes you act the way you do
    Maybe i am crazy too?
    Nah

    April 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  8. biologixco

    Mirrors on the ceiling.
    The pink champaign on ice.
    We are all just prisoners here
    Of our own device...
    And in the elder's chambers
    They gathered for the feast.
    They stab it with their steely knives
    But they just cant kill the beast.

    April 24, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  9. biologixco

    Im gonna soak up some sun.
    Just have a little fun
    At my mormon friends expense.
    Cuz magic underwear and Planet Kolob make no sense
    Here no friends will I make.
    But it sure beats eternity in a fiery lake...!

    April 24, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  10. David Nelson

    The last President of the LDS church was Gordon B Hinckley. These are his words spoken in June of 1998. "The traditional Christ of who they speak is not the Christ of who I speak... He appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820." So whatever it was that appeared to Joe Smith in 1820 (if anything did) is what the President of the LDS church says they still worshipping today. And as for the Jesus of the rest of Christianity? What does the LDS church do with the that Jesus? That is a very, very good question! I would love an answer from an LDS member here on the site. BTW, Brigham Young said that the Joseph Smith Christ was Satan's brother.

    April 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  11. David Nelson

    1. Did Joseph Smith teach that black people had black skins because God had placed a curse on them?
    2. Did brigham Young teach that Adam was God?
    3. Were blacks forbidden from Mormonism's priesthoods before 1978?
    4. Were Brigham Young and Joseph Smith Freemasons?
    5. Are Mormon rituals, with secret handshakes, names, etc incredibly similar to masonic rituals?
    6. Did Joseph Smith have his goons destroy the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor when they were printing materials to expose his rampant polygamy?
    7. Does Mormonism teach that our God Jehovah is just one in an unknown number of Gods?

    You can research any one of these questions and easily find the answers are YES to all of them.

    Does the Mormon church have many more embarrassing skeletons in the closet? Yes
    So how is it that in the past they said that all other churches were false and now are pretending they are just another denomination with the same christ when very recently there last president said he worships a DIFFERENT CHRIST?
    Can you trust the church hierarchy to tell you the truth now? No way

    April 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  12. biologixco

    And during your tour of the Grand Gaudy Temple,
    Don't forget to check out the new Kolobian Brainwasher in the basement!
    We can fit 100 people in this baby!

    April 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  13. biologixco

    Temples to me are the most sacred places on earth. I know this because I live a block away from the salt lake temple and go once a week. I see spirits floating there all the time. And those shiny spaceships that come in from Kolob, woo!. You should see 'em fly! I even saw MITT ROMNEY'S spaceship once! It was sleek and shiny. He flew by throwing $100 bills out the window! You really don't know what you are missing if you don't have temples in your life because they are so spiritually depleting. Just check your soul at the door and don't forget to pick it up on yo way back out!

    Everything that goes on in the temple is found in the blasphemous book of mormon, if you don't believe me, search it out for yourselfs from the "church" itself. Or google: White Horse Prophecy

    April 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Michelle

      If you don't mind, why are you so intent on commenting? I don't know if you are a former member or non member, but if the former it reminds me how people leave but they can't seem to leave the church alone.

      April 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
      • biologixco

        Let me get my violin out and play you a sad song
        boo hoo

        April 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • David Nelson

      Today he is a satirist. Mormonism is such a pathetically sad topic to research that if one didn't have the occasional laugh at its expense, one might sink into despair. Some of the things Mormons have been sold are really sad. A different Jesus for starters is heartbreaking, so laugh away biologixco, it beats crying.

      April 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  14. biologixco

    No need to carry cash when you come to the temple.
    VISA and Mastercard accepted at the door!
    We also have an automated vending machine to get your "Recommend Card" from!
    No excuses NOT to come!

    April 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  15. Michelle

    Temples to me are the most sacred places on earth. I know this because I live a block away from the salt lake temple and go once a week. You really don't know what you are missing if you don't have temples in your life because they are so spiritually enriching.

    Everything that goes on in the temple is found in the bible, if you don't believe me, search it out for yourselfs from the church itself.

    April 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • biologixco

      I visited that temple!
      Last thing I remember,
      I was Running for the door!
      I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
      Relax, said the nightman,
      We are Programmed to receive
      You can check out any time you like...
      But you can never leave!

      April 24, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • biologixco

      Yuk yuk, check it out fo' yourselfs!

      April 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Bizarre

      Michelle, "Everything that goes on in the temple is found in the bible."

      So what? The Bible is a book which includes *some* history of primitive Hebrew culture, and *some* good advice for practical, beneficial human behavior, but a great deal of it is a compilation of ancient Middle Eastern historical fiction, myth, legend, superst.ition and fantasy.

      There is not a whit of verified evidence for any of the supernatural beings or supernatural events in that book.

      There is not a whit of verified evidence that performing any of the primitive, superst'itious rituals from that book has any real effect whatsoever.

      April 24, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Michelle

      Bizzare: I used to be atheist for a long time. But I read the book of mormon and became a believer, check it out for yourself. I have never been happier in my life.
      I was mostly coming to a evangelical standpoint since they seem to have the most problems with the church.

      April 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • David Nelson

      Do you really believe you can find God sanctioned secret masonic inspired rituals in the Bible? Now that is bizarre Lets check the Bible for secret rituals in the Temple. Read Ezekiel 8 and see how God felt about secret rituals in His Templle. . The rituals to be performed in the tabernacle were expressly written out in Exodus and Leviticus. Tell us exactly where in the bible are the step by step instructions for secret rituals in the bible. The world is waiting. By the way, Christ said he did NOTHING in secret, or was Christ lying? I am literally shaking my head. Okay, my head is out of my hands now!

      April 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Chuckles

      emmmm....Michelle, secret handshakes through a polyester curtain marked with symbols that match the garments you wear under your clothes (secret underwear) while you utter the answers to riddles that you will have to answer to the sentinels and Joseph Smith in Heaven before you get to Jesus Christ to be judged (whew!) is NOT in the Bible.

      April 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Terri

      I agree, temples are spiritual places. It's good to go inside the temple where those who mock righteousness can be left behind.

      April 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  16. biologixco

    Oh no! Ive finally sent Terri over the edge.
    She's being strapped on to the gurney .
    Off to Bellevue

    April 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • biologixco

      Call the Waaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhmbulance!
      (Thanks Chuckles, I almost spit my beer on the monitor when I read that!)

      April 24, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Anything to make you smile biologixco! Your posts rule!

      April 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  17. biologixco

    Big boogeyman BOO!

    April 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  18. Janel

    I don't know, reading your posts Terri...it looks like your head is spinning and you're throwing up pea-soup as we speak. If you're a representative of the Mormon church you're REALLY scarey us all away!

    April 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  19. Candice2d

    This is hilarious, but true. The references are flashed at the bottom of the screen so that you can look them up yourself to learn the truth.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKqqGX0DEMM&w=640&h=390]

    April 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  20. Terri

    CHECK THE COMMENT HISTORY. BIOLIGOXCO WAS MAKING RUDE COMMENTS ONLINE ALL DAY YESTERDAY. WHILE THE REST OF US GO TO WORK FOR A LIVING HE IS PAID TO WRITE LIES AND SLANDER ON CNN BLOGS. CNN NEEDS TO KICK THIS GUY OFF. WHAT A SHAMEFUL WAY TO MAKE A LIVING.

    April 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Get Real

      Calm down, Terri,

      Nobody pays a whit of attention to that guy, except to needle him once in a while. He's been on here for weeks now, and has lost all credibility. He's just a Nutzian Christian.

      April 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • biologixco

      Better give your psychiatrist a call, hon
      Im not goin anywhere...

      April 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Terri, it sounds like you need to call the Waaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhmbulance. Geez, nothing like trying to squelch someone's freedom of speech just because you don't like what they say. We're not in kindergarten here...there might be some rude comments that don't please everyone...

      April 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
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About this blog

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.