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. KittyK

    Clifthethird–Sorry–I was talking about Christians some of which were formerly Jews.

    April 8, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  2. Edward

    BootyFunk the Flamer and Atheist claims that "...all babies are born atheists..." Presumably that explains why adult atheists are such whiny and troublesome little knuckleheads that just can't get past their own pride and lack of value in the community.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • CraigW

      Good One! How true.

      April 8, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Wow ...

      April 8, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • Pendragon

      Pure ad hominem is a clear sign that the speaker cannot defend his positions and must resort to cheap shots. It usually loses a formal debate.

      Do you have any substance you wish to discuss?

      April 8, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  3. KittyK

    The KittyK who posted at 12:54 is not me. I don't write trash.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:58 am |
    • Bad Kitty!

      They know, Kitty. They also know what a foll you must really be by saying that everyone is a Catholic, which ignores all non-christian religions. And considering that all forms of Christianity account for only 2.2 of the 7 billion humans, you are insulting 5 in 7 of the world's population.

      April 8, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  4. Bootyfunk

    logging off to eat dinner and watch the daily show. have fun! >8D

    April 8, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • CraigW

      Have fun out in the fields making your crop circles. Hey... Nice job on the last one!

      April 8, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  5. Edward

    Like it or not Homers will die off in time. Their life style is designed to shorten their lives anyway. And since they can't reproduce without significant assistance then hopefully they will always just be a genetic error that corrects itself at death. Flamers are the ultimate Darwin Award Winners.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  6. KittyK

    Everybody is a Catholic. They just don't know it yet. All the others came from and after the Catholics.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • clifthethird

      Pretty sure Jews were before Catholics 😉

      April 8, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Know What

      Heh... that's what Islam says too - they say that everyone is born a Muslim; and they don't even consider it 'converting' when someone joins them - it's called 'reverting'!

      April 8, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • KittyK

      I meant everyone who matters, meaning white people. The darkies in India nad Afrika don't count.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  7. Edward

    By Christmas, all the Democrats between 12 and 25 will actually believe that Abraham Lincoln was a Vampire Slayer. Those idiots actually thing Hollywood is reality. That's how Obama got elected. Pure nonsense.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • The Dread Pirate Roberts

      Please keep posting these insights. The world deserves to know what kind of crazy bigotted people Christians are!

      April 8, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  8. Republicans are Neanderthals

    I have contemplated my navel and have nothing to add.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Loffee

      At the heart of the matter, did you find any Lint? And the bigger question, what do you plan on doing with it when or if you remove it.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • biologixco

      I wouldn't remove it.
      I'd do what any good mormon would do: take a bic lighter and burn it out.
      Devil be gone *poof*

      April 8, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  9. Book of Mormon - The Rough Draft

    " . . . The Angel Dum-Dum (note to self: think of new angel name) came down as left this enormous book I am inventing now on two pickles and a heavenly watermelon (note to self: come up with more impressive, like three silver fence posts visible only if you use your magic sight). They tell the pretty good tale of a 100-man army who came to America from New Jersey (note to self: something biblical sounding instead) with iPhones and Maserattis and other impressive-sounding things. And based on that, you must wear magic diapers (note to self – bikinis? jock straps?) and go forthly to eat vasty amounts of jello and wear a prozacy phony Utah smile so the non-Mormons think you are happier than everyone else."

    April 8, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Ryno

      You're funny and weird. 🙂 May God bless you none-the-less.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  10. b4bigbang

    1) u sure are gullible to believe Hitler's mad rants
    2) u also dont have a clue of what Christianity is.

    Hitler believed a lot of stuff, including a mix of Germanic pa ganism and eastern re in carnation, as well as relic sup er sti tion (u prob think u can b a christian and subscribe to that?)

    Therefore, since we can all assign Christianity on whomever we please, i now pronounce you r a Christian, Bootyfunk.
    I base it on the fact that u r a citizen of a country that is part of what is traditionally regarded as part of Christian Civilization.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • biologixco

      Hitler was a closet Christian.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • b4bigbang

      Here's a little light as to what the Bible says regarding the overused word 'believe':
      19Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

      We know the devils r not christian, but they have an intellectual belief in God (just like so many lost people)
      The kind of belief that makes a Christian is taken from the original Greek of the Scriptures, which means trust in, cling to, rely upon.
      It is for this very reason that many of my Christian brothers wont even join the military or police depts. the idea being, if im clinging to a firearm, ready to use it, how can i say i am relying on faith in Jesus?
      No offence to the many soldirs/cops that r christian.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      your logic is terrible. you keep saying "Therefore, since we can all assign Christianity on whomever we please, i now pronounce you r a Christian, Bootyfunk." how are you drawing that conclusion? hitler wrote and said he was a christian many, many times. no one had to a.ssign it to him. HE a.ssigned to himself. see the difference?

      April 8, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      i'm gullible? haha. no matter how much proof is p.resented that hitler was a christian, you can't accept it. why not? why is impossible that he was a christian? what makes you think he was not?

      April 8, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  11. biologixco

    I wanna visit a temple, but they won't let me in.
    *sniff* they juz dont love mee.
    Whats a poor Christian to do?

    April 8, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Loffee

      Stop believing in an invisible man in the sky would be a good start.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  12. biologixco

    American women are tuned in to romney and his mormon cult beliefs.
    That's why he is down by double digit percentage points against Obama.
    Multiple wives and slavery/servitude of mormon doctrine demean and belittle women.
    Romney is one of their High Priests.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Ryno

      It's early in the game biologixco. Let's see what happens... this is a free country and people will vote with their heart, mind, and conscience. However, I'm one of those glass-half-full kinda guys and I think this is a good nation with good God fearing women and men who want to do the right thing. Romney has great experiences as an executive leader with many successes in his life. He's also a good man, a good husband and father, a true patriot, and servant of this great country. Let's keep religion out of politics. Remember, it was the protestant movement from the Catholic church that led people to this great land, yet many U.S. citizens honor John F. Kennedy. So, then who cares what the religion is and focus on a person who can get-the-job-done. May the best nominee win. In my mind it is Mitt Romey, a servant and leader of our great United States of America. In my mind, the greatest country in the world!

      April 8, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  13. biologixco

    Mittens Romney is an alien from Kolob.
    Google it. No BS.
    A vote for romney is a vote for alien slavery.
    Think , think...think about it.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  14. b4bigbang

    @Bootyf: " Any religious rhetoric he may have used in order to gain power is nothing but cr0p."

    Read my posts slower if u have a prob keeping up.
    Unless u disagree?
    So if he was a christian bcause he engaged in religio-rhetoric and bcause he was baptised as a baby into the rom cath cult, he's a christian (your inferance is "surely the Fuherer couldnt be lying, is that what u r saying?)

    April 8, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • CraigW

      But BootyFunk knows everything! We should bow down before him! He won't be happy til we do.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      no, he was a christian because he believed in the christian god and thought he was doing god's work by wiping out the Jews, you know, the ones christians blame for killing their messiah? you seem to not want to accept he was a christian, but where did he say, even once, that he was not?

      and you seem stuck on the baptism thing. that was out of his control. baptisms as a child mean nothing. it's just a meaningless ritual. but when you are an adult and assert over and over that you are a christian, that does mean something. see a difference?

      April 8, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • CraigW

      @BootyFunk: Time for you to go out and make some crop circles. Hitler didn't do anything in the name of God. If he did he was using that as a social approval. He did everything in his own name. Go to history class!

      April 8, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • CraigW

      @BootyFunk: Hitlers violence against the Jews was a personal discrimination. As for the others subject to the concentration camps...it was to either purify the german race, or to get rid of anyone who might be in opposition to him.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      sowwy, i don't believe aliens have come to earth either. all attacks on me are ad hominem - you attack the arguer and skip the argument.

      hitler not doing the work of the lord, eh? chistians have long hated and persecuted jews, so why do you have trouble believing hitler was a christian? i have shown evidence of hitler being a christian. look up numerous speeches. where's your evidence he was not a christian? seriously, provide some evidence. i challenge you to show some evidence instead of opinion.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • CraigW

      I am Christian, and I don't have any problems with Jews and their beliefs. Or Muslims and their beliefs, or any other form of religion. As I said before. I choose to believe the way I do, so live with it yourself. You don't convince me of anything but being sorry for yourself!

      April 8, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • CraigW

      @BootyFunk: The funny thing is...When I log out, because I need to get some sleep before I go to my job tomorrow; your probably act or feel like you've won some big battle not hearing from me. The truth is...Your not worth arguing with, and I will say a prayer for you tonight.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      yes, waste more of your time praying. you can't ever produce evidence of your accusations. you say i'm a terrible person over and over, but what terrible thing have i done or said? that i don't believe in god doesn't make me evil - oh wait, your book says anyone that doesn't believe what you believe is evil and deserving of eternal torture. haha, and you're the good guys? haha.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  15. leeann, scared for freedom

    Good grief, people! All these calls to "lock 'em up" and "close down their temples" is ridicules, scary, and shameful. Have we become so afraid, bitter, hateful, or unsure of ourselves that we've forgotten about religious freedom, that we can choose whatever religious or non-religious lifestyle we choose to live? Are we just going to throw freedom out the window because of something that is alien to us? If we start "closing down" one religion, what is to stop us from closing them all down, or forcing everyone to participate in a religion?

    So what if Mormons believe in temples, or Catholics believe that their sacrament actually turns into the body of Christ, or Jehovah's witnesses don't celebrate holidays, or whoever does whatever? And who really understands any religion when you belong to another, or to none at all? It's like trying to understand the beliefs and culture of those who live in Timbuktu (which really exits, by the way), without ever visiting that country or getting to know anyone from that country.

    What harm has been done? We are so much better than this!

    April 8, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      as an atheist, i agree. religious people have the right to their ignorant belief systems. i would fight for their right to be ignorant. calls to close the temple or forcibly close their doors is terrible. people have the right to be dumb.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • b4bigbang

      leann, u should be scared. After all, they're only being inspired by their spiritual father Marx, in a similar way that Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al were...

      April 8, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • leeann, scared for freedom

      B4bigbang, I must not be articulate enough, because you completely missed what scares me so much.

      Marx, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot caused millions to suffer extreme conditions such as torture and starvation, and directly or indirectly caused the death of millions more. There are current dictatorships that lean or fall completely into that category, but I know of no religions. (Didn't those dictators attack religion in all forms?) However, your claiming that Mormons (and I don't know, maybe you think all religions are the same) follow those blood-shedding tyrants is exactly the kind of thing that can lead to the removal of religious freedoms.

      I think you might have just made my point. Remember, you're better than that.

      April 8, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  16. Man created God in his image

    Religion is a psychological crutch for the feeble minded.

    April 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • Loffee

      You make a good point But, on the bright side, religion provides a strict regimen of habits like eating your broccoli and studying hard for school. They follow a straight and narrow path to success a lot of times. As the famous saying goes, religion is the opiate of the people. A natural drug. They belong to group and are not alone to cope with life by themselves; they have other church goers and the pretend man in the sky to fall back on. When you take a good hard look at religion, it is pretty silly, but millions of people use it as a coping device, that's all. Let them have all the church they want, as long as they don't push their life style on to everyone else. To each his or her own.

      April 8, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  17. Roger

    I do my best to visit temples frequently. My family has been strengthened, I love my wife more, and I feel more motivation to serve my neighbors because I attend the temple. The construction of temples and the work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God's work.

    April 7, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Dpljlb

      La dee dah. Good for you. The Mormons are a bunch of bigots.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  18. izandroro

    Funny how people of faith always forget they are sinners. Pride goes before the fall.

    April 7, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      You're judging, roro-bro...

      April 7, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      thinking everyone is an evil sinner is a disgusting and unhealthy way to look at humanity.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • CraigW

      Come on everyone. BootyFunk knows everything! We should bow down before him! He won't be happy til we do.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      bad conclusion. i don't claim to know everything, never did. that's the realm of the religious. want to change my mind? it's really really easy to do. just show me some solid proof.

      you are on the opposite side of the spectrum. no matter how much evidence is presented showing the bible is wrong and errant, you will continue to believe. no proof of your diety's existence, you you blindly believe like a good cult member.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Ryno

      Unfortuately isandroro that is not true. I know all to well the sins I have. I am so imperfect and yet know I can hope in the Savior Jesus Christ. In him, I can have peace, and know I can become better and better despite my many imperfections. I am a Mormon, I am a follower of Jesus Christ, I am a Christian.

      I wish you all the best izandroro and hope that love and charity can break the bariers of our differences of thought and belief.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  19. b4bigbang

    Bootyfunk: "mein kampf was written by a christian."

    The only thing that ties that lying mass-murdering megalomaniac uber-sociopath to "christianity" is that he was baptised by the Rom Cath org (itself being the largest false-Christian cult) as a baby. Any religious rhetoric he may have used in order to gain power is nothing but cr0p.
    So by that same stretch of a rule, i now pronounce that YOU are a Christian due to the fact that u r a citizen in a country that has traditionally been included as part of Christian Civilization (ie, Europe and the Americas).

    April 7, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Corr: Easier 4 u to understand if i change my wording to 'by YOUR stretch of the rule', ie, your def of a 'christian'.

      April 7, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • Roberto

      Oh, for Christ's sake, go to bed. Take some valium or something. Do you have anything else that can consume your interest? Like going to Home Depot and buying tools or downloading music?

      April 7, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      wrong. do your homework. in mein kampf, hitler mentions the creator several times. you should really do some research before you blather on. here's a quote from mein kampf:

      "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."

      hitler gave numerous speeches where he said he was a christian, too. seriously, do your homework.

      here's another quote from mein kampf:
      "The folkish-minded man, in particular, has the sacred duty, each in his own denomination, of making people stop just talking superficially of God's will, and actually fulfill God's will, and not let God's word be desecrated. For God's will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord's creation, the divine will."

      but he wasn't a christian, eh?

      April 8, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      also, we are all born atheists. no babies believe in god. it's only later that we are inducted into the cult. yes, i was in the cult of christianity, too. i'm one of the lucky ones - i escaped that mental prison.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  20. Roberto

    Whew! I'm outta here.
    God save us from the crazy Christians and the unbridled libertines.

    April 7, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • jokes on you

      Robert, you need to educate yourself. You are quite ignorant about life!

      April 7, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Roberto, i thot u were outta here. Why hang around and punish yourself? Go enjoy the family. As 4 me, i'm at work, nothun goin on, bored and so i post....

      April 8, 2012 at 12:00 am |
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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.