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.”

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soundoff (4,366 Responses)
  1. Nephi

    I'm so grateful that there will be a temple in the Kansas City area! It's a special place where we can go to learn about our relationship with Joseph Smith and Planet Kolob before we are all thrown into a burning lake of fire. The temple is where we go to learn how important everyone is to Them, and we also go there to dedicate ourselves to living the false prophesies of Joseph Smith. My life has been blessed by the things I've learned and felt in the temple. Take a ride in the brainwasher, its fun! I'm also grateful for our friends and neighbors of other faiths (except Baptists) or who are gay, agnostic or atheist who have made it easier to live with myself and shown me great kindness, respect, and civility. We all love each other! Especially our gay friends! Its one big lovefest.

    April 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • biologixco

      Thanks Nephi,
      Finally a little honesty from a mormon.
      Thanks for the levity.
      Let the Truth set you free...

      April 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Earthquakes in different places, next maybe a mark applied to the forehead or right hand.
      Don't take the mark!

      April 13, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • dcsouthgw

      Kolob isn't actually mentioned in any of the temple ceremonies and there isn't anything very secretive about it. It is just a planet described for Abraham in a revelation. I have left several comments to this regard and haven't gotten any responses as to why anti mormons think Kolob is so significant.

      April 14, 2012 at 2:26 am |
    • eric calderone

      RE: dcsouthgw
      Kolob is significant because it is wholly fictional. Nowhere in mainstream Christianity is there any mention of God and Jesus coming from a planet near a Star, Kolob. Kolob is significant because it illustrates how far Mormonism is removed from Christianity. It is made of specious cloth.

      April 14, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • dcsouthgw

      Mr. Calderone: You are right that it is a difference, but only one of many that are actual doctrinal differences versus an anecdotal one. Mr. Biologixco seems to harp on it like it is a dagger to our faith when it amounts to a tidbit of info. Talk about doctrinal differences that are important, like the trinity versus the godhead, faith and works, heaven versus kingdoms of glory. It is a call for him and others to get relevant.

      April 15, 2012 at 3:39 am |
  2. Jeremiah

    Keep an open mind Margaret.
    Biologixco is just a creepy Baptist bigot.
    Go read his posts.

    April 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Jeremiah

      biologixco take your hate somewhere else
      This is serious business.
      We both disagree with mormonism, but you are just too over the top about it

      April 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  3. Zelph

    This is all a lie

    April 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Jeremiah

      Go to EXmormon.org and make your mind up for yourself!
      Dont bother with LDS.org or mormon.org
      Go to EXmormon.org to find out what mormons who LEFT the church have to say...

      April 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  4. Ezra

    My wife and I were Mormon.
    When I left the church, my wife left me, kidnapped the kids and ran off to Utah.
    The LDS is hiding her and I can't even see my kids.
    They say I have no parental rights in Utah

    April 13, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Margaret

      Are you serious? Thats terrible! They come off as such nice people.
      Sorry to hear that.

      April 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • dcsouthgw

      I am sorry to hear about your kids. If your wife is being harbored, it isn't by the church, but members and maybe even under the pretense of false allegations about you. Who wouldn't try to protect a single mother and kids? Utah does have strict custody laws but that is for each state to decide.
      To Margaret: I am sorry that this comments section has to be your first exposure to Mormonism. I find that these sections bring out many from the fringes of opinions and few from the center. I hope you at least take a balanced approach in the future to more information.

      April 14, 2012 at 2:11 am |
    • Coyoteliberty

      Of course, as always in custodial divorce cases, it's always dangerous to hear one side of the story and draw a full conclusion. After all, Ezra could be as aggreived as he says he is, but the questions that come to mind are why did his wife leave him and take the kids?Why did she feel it necessary to go into hiding? He suggests that he has no parental rights in Utah and that people are actively hiding his kids. This would be a violation of federal law, unless there is a reason legally, such as protection from abuse. Custody disputes are often ugly and brutal, but seldom as straightforward as they seem.

      April 14, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Coyoteliberty

      Wow 45 pages of comments, mostly open screed against LDS by people whose own religious beliefs are little better than unproveable mythology itself. I don't have a dog in this fight, per se, as I'm actually an ex-Mormon myself and left because the belief structure began to make less and less sense. But I knew – and know – good people whom are Mormons. This level of vitriol is distatsteful.
      The "Good Christians" attacking the "cult" as they see it should stop and realize that when you create an atmosphere of hostility where it's okay to demonize any religion, you create a social environment where people of faith -any faith, including your own – become fair game.
      You might want to keep in mind a little something I picked up in my travels. A little saying that seems to be truer the older I get "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

      April 14, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  5. Chastidee

    My brother committed suicide over it.
    You would be crazy to go anywhere near that church

    April 13, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  6. Enos

    Margaret, Im an ex mormon.
    It devastated my family in ways that I can never repair.
    My family won't even speak to me because I left the church.
    Imagine being cast out and all alone.
    It brings me to tears just thinking about it.
    Is that the kind of thing you really want to get mixed up in?

    April 13, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  7. Margaret

    Is there anyone serious on here?
    How does one be accepted into you glorious church?
    Who do I contact?

    April 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • biologixco

      Dear God,
      Margaret. Go to EXmormon.org FIRST!
      Mormons will try to convince you otherwise.
      Dont do it!

      April 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • biologixco

      Margaret...its a C U L T
      be careful!

      April 13, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Nicole Marie Productions

      Hi Margaret! You can go to http://www.mormon.org and if you want missionaries to contact you to answer any questions you personally have, here's a link for you: http://mormon.org/missionaries/. I say find out information from the source first and then decide for yourself. 🙂

      April 13, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • dcsouthgw

      I know it is hard to find good info on this posting page, but comments sections are the worst place to go to get info. Some of us do want to represent reason and truth and hopefully we aren't the ones name calling or belittling. Go to mormon.org or even better, find someone around you that is a member. It isn't our standard practice to kidnap kids, ostracize wayward family, or guilt trip people into suicide. It is too bad that this is all anyone wants to post.

      April 14, 2012 at 2:18 am |
    • Tim

      Margaret, if you honestly want to know the truth about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints go to LDS.org and get in touch with the local missionaries of the church. I am an active member of the church. It is amazing to me to read posts on articles like this. Most are full of hate and misinformation about the church from agnostics or hostile ex-mormons. When Jesus Christ was on the earth and taught His glorious gospel was the reaction to Him and His teachings any different than people's reaction to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There are those who say it is of the devil, that it is blashamy, that is is evil, etc, etc, etc. However, those who had an honest heart and were sincere in their desire for truth were blessed to recieve a witness from the Holy Ghost that Jesus was the Son of God, Savior of the world and that his teachings were true. He never asked his followers to ONLY judge his teachings based upon logic or how popular his teachings were. In my opinion, the vicious opposition to this church is one of the testimonies to it's truth. People who hate on our truth and spread false teachings clearly do so without a spirit of the love of God or sincerity. My testimony to you is that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and my personal Savior. Everything in the Church has re-affirmed my faith in Jesus as my Redeemer and friend. We don't worship Joseph Smith. We worship God our Father and Jesus Christ as His only Begotten Son. I encourage you to explore the church for yourself and then go to God in prayer and meditation. He is the source for ALL truth.

      April 14, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • biologixco

      Tim Tim Tim
      You dont worship Joseph Smith?
      Say whaaat?
      That's a lie!
      The book of mormon is ALL about worship to Joseph Smith.
      Remember, Joseph Smith is your PROPHET? (Probably your god too)
      It mocks the Bible and is blasphemous!

      April 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  8. Caleb

    It is sad that others go about spreading falsehoods about others beliefs. Whether people admit it or not, we all have a belief system. Those belief systems have differences, but most religions have more similarities than differences. It shocks me how those proclaiming the truth of one belief system, can so quickly denounce others personal beliefs. You have the right to disagree, but you should be civil and not disagreeable. It is astonishing that we still let petty differences lead us to hostile arguments, fights, and wars. Stop acting below your own moral code! All you denouncing others beliefs are the epitome of hypocrites.

    April 13, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • biologixco

      HYPOCRITES? This from the person who prays to Kolob and wears magic underwear!
      (rolling on the floor laughing!)

      April 13, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  9. Cornholio

    I fell in to a burning ring of fire
    Down down down
    The flames go higher.
    And it Burned Burned Burned
    The Lake of Fire

    April 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  10. Cornholio

    Take me to your leader

    April 13, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  11. Brigham

    Learn the real Truth about mormonism:
    If you can save a loved one, do it now

    April 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Stan Barker

      I think it rather interesting that these guys keep telling everyone to go to exmormon.org. For the record, everytime I, as a Mormon have posted responses there, they have removed them; not because they contain vitriol, but because they don't like to see their lies about the LDS Church exposed. They are a very sad vitriolic lot there. Don't bother with them. You will hear nothing but anecdotal whining. For those who keep touting that the LDS Church is a cult, perhaps it would be instructive for them, and anyone interested, to look up the word in the dictionary. Followers of Jesus Christ are refered to as an example of a cult. A bitter anti-Mormon named Walter Martin copped that word and turned it into something that has an bad ring to it. The use of the word makes the LDS Church sound like people of the Jonestown massacre. Nothing could be further from the truth. Also, for every anti-Mormon anecdotal story you hear in forums like this, there are thousands of anecdotal stories that give exactly the opposite picture. Now, no doubt there will be certain individuals on this forum that will scream about what I have said, etc. Go to the Lord about these things. Do a true investigation. The vitrolic people on here do not have the ability to save your soul. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

      April 14, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Tim

      This is like saying if you want to know about Obama ask Romney, or vica versa. If you want to know the truth about Christians go talk with people who hate Christians. If you want to know the truth about Muslims, ask those who hate Muslims. If you want to know the truth about Jews, ask those who hate Jews............oh wait, this reasoning makes no sense. Your intent is to spread hate and misinformation. Satan is the father of contention. As a member of the LDS church I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. He is the way, the truth, and the life. You may disagree with points of our doctrine or possibly have been offended by those of our faith. Move on with your life and stop breeding hate and conention. If you are an Ex-Mormon my question for you is this: If you still believe in God and Jesus Christ, why do you so clearly teach hate for your fellow man. No religion has perfect people. Accept that as fact. NOTICE HOW THERE ARE NO POSTS BY MORMONS PREACHING SLANDEROUS OR HATRED FOR EX-MORMONS. We love them as our brothers and sisters and respect their decision to leave the church. That is their right. By their fruits ye shall know them. Posting numerous comments of hatred and biogotry about anyone doesn't seem like anything Jesus would do......so it doesn't seem very likely that those who would be inspired by him would do the same either.

      April 14, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  12. biologixco

    Even Latino MORMONS wont vote ROMNEY2012!
    Check it out:

    April 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • biologixco

      And I won't be either.
      KNOW the DANGER
      Just say NO ROMNEY2012!

      April 13, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Mike

      Illegal immigrants won't vote Romney.
      Now there's a surprise!

      April 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  13. biologixco

    The sign over that temple door reads:
    relinquere spes omnes qui intrare

    April 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Margaret

      Isnt that Latin for
      Abandon hope all ye who enter here?

      April 13, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Stan Barker

      Whose temple door. If you are implying or saying it is over an LDS Temple door you are a liar. The inscription reads: Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord. Margaret, you have to ask yourself, why is this bio guy making up all of this nonsense and lying about LDS beliefs and belittling them. Have you seen that kind of action from the Savior or from Mormons? Remember, once again, 'by their fruits ye shall know them. Trust the Lord, not biowhatever.

      April 14, 2012 at 9:51 am |
      • biologixco

        Thats right Margaret.
        Judge them by their "bitter fruits"
        Fruit #1: Mitt Romney
        Fruit #2 Harry Reid
        Ack. My mouth turned sour just typing that statement.

        April 14, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  14. biologixco

    I heard there was LSD in that Coool Aid
    Or was that LDS?
    Be a mistake to drink it EITHER way!

    April 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  15. biologixco

    Im gonna go to Kolob, yes I will.
    Soon as I swallow this BIG mormon pill
    Wash it down with a big glass of Cool Aid
    And watch in horror as my life's dues are paid

    April 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  16. biologixco

    I like gwape!

    April 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • biologixco

      A nice cool drink is always nice.

      April 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  17. Timmy Tebow

    I like COOL AID TOO!
    Cherry is my fave!

    April 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  18. kolobian brainwasher


    April 13, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  19. Lol

    If you want to know the truth about what Mormons believe, just ask a Mormon or go to the church's official web site!
    I mean, cause it's not like either of those sources would be biased at all, right?

    April 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Valid Question

      Says the spider to the fly...

      April 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Jon

      The best source for a person's belief would be to actually ask the person. What better source is there?

      April 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  20. kolobian brainwasher

    Come to my temple
    And close your eyes
    Mr. Kolobian has a big surprise
    (SLAM!) door slams shut. (and locks forever!)

    April 13, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Stan Barker

      Good grief! Are you what, 15 years old? This is so grade school yard behavior. Grow up.

      April 14, 2012 at 9:54 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.