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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. TommyTT

    How silly for people of other religions to "decide" whether or not Mormonism is a religion. And how silly for people of other religions that tell of miracles in their history to "decide" whether or not Mormon miracles are real. Of course it's a religion. And fools who say "my miracles are true and yours are not" are measuring the unmeasurable.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  2. Pipe-Dreamer

    OF REFLECTIONS' ABYSS
    By Pipe-Dreamer
    The mirrored reflections of socialisms will ever hide many individual's oneness. "I am alone" when one looks passed socialisms' reflectives. You will never truly be united with me nor myself. I am myself and nothng more. You are the mirrored reflectiveness that keeps me wanting to learn. I am fearful oh God of my unleavened spirit. You oh God know my innermost thoughts and you oh God do see myself's pain to know you oh God. Without my always trying to know you oh God, I would be without much reason to want living and to be alive. You oh God are my Life's nourishing moments in Time.
    Shadows play in the lime of lights' refractioning. The motions of light do mix with the movements of self. Never able to see into the depths of darkness will ever be. Only the mirrored momentums of self may be one's shadowy fields of reflective monumentalisms. Oh God of my everness soul, You are my fields of Glory and personal redemption. Without individualisms being manifestations' consort, Life could not exist let alone become aware of its' Self. Oh God who is Creator of Creation and creations made manifested, you are Time's momentum and Life's essence. People are but refractions of reflectiveness oh God and your Godliness does outshine all celestial Life and its' many formations. God you are and will forever be!

    Deeply within the microcosm of inner space our reflectiveness ever does shine thru. Our being within the realm of outer space does ever mirror the deepest parts of inner space. We are your buildings oh God and all Life here is of your Kingdom's Domains. The Abyss reaches ever outward and inwardly. Time does the traveler their sentenced waywardness. Oh God, I do so see your Timeliness and timelessness. My soul does treasure your moments' finiteness with my thoughts. In your Abyss I will die and become of your Holiness Spirit.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • George Bush

      Have you been snorting coke off your five twelve year old brides again?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      @ George Bush,,,,,,
      Flattery of the indiginous will get you nowhere,,,,, :-)

      April 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  3. SK

    I LOVE MORMONS

    April 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • The Angel Moron

      I love morons.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • YeahOk

      I am mo' Ron than you can handle.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • SK

      I only said I love mormons cause CNN rejects all my other posts. So, let me just say that religious secrecy is GREAT. Exclusion in the name of a higher power is GREAT. I totally TRUST any church with the afforementioned attributes and I especially TRUST their members to be president. Now reverse the meaning of all my capitalized words. Will this go through after eight tries?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  4. wolf775

    Well at least probably fewer people died building this place than died building the old world cathedrals. I'm a firm believer that God cares not for these big business religions with their self conceived rites.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Bob

      You are absolutely correct about "self-conceived rites".

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

      As in; "The heavens are my throne and the earth is my foot stool, what house will you build for me?"

      April 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  5. Melly

    This is not a "rare" view. People are welcome to go to ANY temple's open house. Usually held after the building is done, before it is consecrated to do sacred work. Occasionally they will have them after remodeling a temple, too. I believe they will have one after that in Atlanta.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Kyle

      I am curious how they stop people, I mean, call the police, there is someone in our church building

      April 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  6. Step13

    As Christains, It is our duty to correct the thinking of our lost brothers and sisters. To revel the true Message of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To bring them back into the fold, as the Shepard seeks out the lost sheep of the flock.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • wolf775

      Is this kind of like all the "correcting" that was done to the north and south american indians by the Spainards?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • OntheFence

      Boy, someone had better check Elder William Walker sacred underware. Boy is he carrying a load.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • ldean50

      actually no... the motives of the Spainards was mainly to rob/steal and kill the Natives of the new world. Missionaries came much later.
      \

      April 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • TommyTT

      Correcting someone else's religion is smug and arrogant. Get a life.

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

      idean50, your "motivations" for the conquistadores are not based on research. The biggest driver of Spanish exploration of the New World actually was a desire to convert the pagan. The biggest hidden agenda was to bring home gold and other profits. Killing and enslaving were not part of the plan (although they certainly happened). The story as you tell it is what historians call the "Black Lie." Queen Isabella herself issued orders that new world inhabitants were not to be enslaved.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • ImAProudMormonBelieveIt

      As Christian you should Love One Another..
      Us Mormons are not lost and we are perfectly fine.
      You'll go your way and i'll go mine and mind your own business
      MKAyYy??

      April 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  7. zip

    Google Mark Hofmann if you want to learn about Mormons. You won't believe it.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Curtis

      Or check out LDS.org or Mormon.org

      April 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  8. Harry

    F U C K the Mormon church.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • toad

      SATAN, GET BEHIND ME!

      April 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Spence

      Well, Harry, at least you don't hide your worthlessness.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  9. David

    Go to LDS.org and learn the truth about our faith.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • zip

      Can you explain planet Kolob to me??

      April 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • George Bush

      Poor cult member does not even know the truth, just pay your 10% and not question the magic underwear.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • toad

      im a mormon but i dont know anything about magicg uderwear....did i miss something

      April 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Spence

      There is little purpose in casting pearls before swine.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • The Angel Moron

      Yes, do that. Then read your bible and learn about how much the Mormon church is misleading and deceiving people from God's true word. Then read the Book of Mormon and then talk to any archeologist and ask if there's any evidence about the civilizations that Joseph Smith dreamed up.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  10. Bob

    Mormons take oaths during the temple ceremony similar to the ones
    during the Freemasonry initiation ceremony. Doesn't the bible say not
    to take oaths. Young Mormons beware, you are being manipulated by the
    elders and not being told the full truth.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • ldean50

      big difference. Masons do not claim to be an organized religion or church.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  11. Eric

    Learn the facts:

    http://temples.lds.org

    http://mormon.org

    I am amazed at how much hate and misinformation I see pointed to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints in this blog. This church does a lot to try and help people follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. If you would like to know what they teach go visit one of their meetings, talk to a member, or go to one of the churches web sites to see what they teach (listed above).

    April 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Bob

      I actually went to a Mormon service and took part in their Bible studies.
      Do the research and you will see that Mormonism is a fraud.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • ldean50

      careful though if you rely ONLY on LDS written public relations materials. The sacredness (or secret-ness) are not revealed to members until AFTER they pass requirements essential to obtain a temple pass. So, if you talk to a Mormon, be sure to check their credentials.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Curtis

      Bob, must not have paid attention, all are welcome please come and worship with us.

      LDS.org and Mormon.org find a congregation in your home town.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  12. beau

    Mormonism is a cult, there is no way people in the south will vote for a Mormon president. As a 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 5:07 pm |
    • RMB

      why would God send someone to hell for believing Mormons are Christians?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • wolf775

      Where does one find this itemized list of who will burn in hell?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Brian

      I'm having a hard time following your logic about going to hell ... From what I can tell by looking at their websites they seem pretty genuine in following Jesus. The prejudices that you hold seem to be more unchristian than their beliefs.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • John J. Puccio

      Ah, yes, like all good Christians wishing death upon anyone with whom they disagree. :)

      April 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • hammer

      A lot of good baptist down south.They think they have the power to send you to hell.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Spence

      Beau - Mormon's are probably the most Christian of any Christian sect. All your protestants are just excommunicated Catholics and the Catholic Church is totally corrupt. Everything else is just noise.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • David

      How can you tell me that I am not a Christian? That offends me. I believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe He died for me and all man kind. I believe He is the Son of God. I believe the only way for me to return to my Heavenly is through Him. Our church is the The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. I believe it is Jesus Christ's Church and He runs it through His living prophets today.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Curtis

      Beau, I don't recall Christ ever condeming anyone, perhaps we should do better at following His example!

      April 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  13. John

    Mormonism is a fake, fraudulent relgion. It is a dangerous cult and nothing more. Anyone who thinks that when you die you become equal with God and rule your own planet is insane. How anyone could follow this dangerous cult is beyong me. And to dare to use the name of Jesus in the name of their cult is blasphemous in and of itself.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • hammer

      John can you tell me what you do when you get to heaven.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Bob

      Bingo!

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

      that we will become equal to God is just another anti mormon lie, justt like most of what the haters are posting

      April 7, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Spence

      No one is less Christian than you are John. So remove that mote from your own eye before you start trying to remove the stick from some other person's eye.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • TommyTT

      Fascinating that you think your sect's mythology is sane and that of the Mormons is crazy. That's not provable. It's just arrogant and smug.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  14. *frank*

    Absolutely beautiful artistry on that there "baptismal fount." Lol.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Ruby

      Yes, it is. I am sure it helps the faithful to rise up emotionallly in prayer.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  15. ja-coffalotte

    Do Mormons believe in aliens?

    April 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • John J. Puccio

      Yes, Mexican aliens, South American aliens, space aliens, angels, gods, Jesus. Mormons believe in extending love and peace to all people, no matter where they're from. Unlike so many other "good" Christians of the world.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • TommyTT

      Someone please explain how Mormon aliens are different from or less credible than Christian angels or Jewish cherubim, etc.? You believe what you believe, and you don't really know the truth any more than the next person.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  16. Matthew

    It disturbs me that many people have a misconception about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. If you really took the time to know the LDS church and the people of the church, many of you would not say what you are saying. However, remember this country was founded on religious freedom. Let’s all love one another and treat other religions with respect. CNN did a good review of the sacred LDS Temples.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • zip

      Freedom of religion. Not freedom of cult.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Beth

      I am sorry to see people posting rudely about your religion. That happens all the time here about Catholicism, Judaism, etc. I would respect Mormonism if Mormons did not try to change *my* life by trying to pass laws that push religion or their religious views on non-Mormons. I don't appreciate that the Mormon church spent millions to pass prop 8 in California, etc. Other than that I wish Mormons all the best.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • AZpartsGuy

      Beth, the mormon churh didn't spend any money against prop 8, however many mormons along with catholics, baptists, lutherans, etc. did.

      April 8, 2012 at 5:02 am |
  17. Mel

    I wonder why they won't let average non-Mormons sit in to observe the Odd Antics & Weird Rituals? What are they afraid of?

    April 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • mechwd2

      Of people taking it out of context without the proper knowledge and using it to try and bash the mormons even more. Why are you so interested?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Kyle

      Proper context? There is no proper context, there is simply acts and rituals. What context could people miss?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • John J. Puccio

      Anyone can visit a Morman temple. Just join the church. Can you attend the U.N. Security Council if you're not a member? Can you get into the highest Vatican Council rooms or see the inner workings of the Vatican if you're not a Bishop or a Cardinal? Can you attend a 49ers' locker room conference if you're not a member of the team or privileged member of the press? There is nothing "secret" about Mormon temples that thousands of people visit every day.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  18. Red

    At the end of the year members of the Mormon church are called in by their leaders to account for whether or not they paid a full 10% of their income to the church that year. I personally know people who have been put on payment plans to catch up. If they fail to pay, they are not allowed to attend family weddings held at the Mormon temple.

    The full disclosure goes only one way however. Unlike many other churches, the finances of the Mormon church (and most importantly the budget) are kept completely secret from the members and the public. This is a huge red flag for me.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Bob

      It is a red flag. Unless you pay your 10% you can't go to heaven according
      to Mormon doctrine. Really, no lie. I studied with Mormons so I'm well aware of
      their doctrine.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • mechwd2

      You are not required to 'catch up'. That is a choice that the person personally made.

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

      bob, if you studied with the mormons you would know thats not true

      April 7, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Red

      @toad, ti thing is required to get into the Mormon heaven... Who are you kidding?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  19. Yma Sumac

    Mormons, as a church, seem to have as much "bling" as the Vatican. This would be a good reminder with Easter Sunday tomorrow that Jesus preached that his followers should keep their faith in Him to themselves and pray to Him in secret. Some of the hottest places in Hell, according to Jesus, are reserved for those who make a show of their faith and pray to God in front of ther fellow man because they are, in Jesus' own words, "hypocrites."

    April 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • mechwd2

      This is different. The "bling" is for God... not man. Go to one of the churches and you will see is is very non-blingy.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Raymond

      It's ironic that you suggest Mormons make a show of their religion. The article clearly points out that only devout Mormons are allowed into the temple. If they are doing things for show, then why would they not do it in public for everyone to see

      April 7, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • WCS

      Clearly you have never been in or maybe ever seen any of the thousands of Mega churches sprawling across the nation. Where the pastor is paid very well and the success of the church depends on how awesome it looks. It also helps if the pastor tells people what they want to hear, instead of truth and light. That way the crowds are more inclined to return the next week and dump more money into the basket. Just sayin' 137 mormon temples across the world is insignificant in comparison.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  20. Ron

    Its called "The Colossal Cult Capitol" for mormon morons

    April 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Spence

      Is that really the best you can do Ronald?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:21 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.