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. ihatehumanityandanimalsaswell

    Mormonism is a cult.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  2. marine123

    I would love to have 3 husbands.:))) It is more secure, then have one idiot.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  3. tony

    The World's most powerful gods are the one's who's followers need the biggest collection plates. How strange.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  4. Red

    Mormon temple ceremonies are not secret. You can watch them or read the transcripts online.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Lilarose1941

      Please give us the url for watching Temple ceremonies. By the way, I was already baptized in a church I chose when my stupid cousin had me proxy baptized again. That alone should get me into the Temple. I think it is utterly SHAMEFUL that friends and family who are not allowed into the Temple can't witness their a wedding. If my kid did that to me, I would disown him or her. OUTRAGEOUS! Weddings are one of the most sacred sacraments in Christianity. And a bunch of idiots would keep people from attending? SHAME SHAME SHAME!

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

      Just google "lds endowment ceremony transcript." And I'll warn you. It's pretty bizarre.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  5. Soonpati Parataneum O'o'o'glacealla

    if any of your deities exist, and they do actually care about petty little water rituals like this, then our race is really in trouble

    April 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  6. The Angel Moron

    Why doesn't CNN ask the hand-clapping nut job about this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_wives_of_Joseph_Smith?

    April 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  7. Lilarose1941

    Even Jesus isn't allowed in the Temple. He doesn't have a card.

    April 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • pastmorm

      Wow, that's true, I hadn't thought of that. Poor Jesus! Well I guess he'll have to stay in the hearts of people instead of the buildings of megalomaniacs.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  8. Bob

    Mormonism is a fraud. Do the research if you dare.
    Buying your way to heaven?

    April 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Mavent

      I believe you have Mormons confused with Catholics. Look up "Indulgences" on Google.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • marine123


      April 7, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Bob

      I'm not confused. Unless a Mormon t_ithes they cannot enter the temple ceremony. If you don't
      go through the temple ceremony you can't go to heaven. Effectively, buying your way to heaven.

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

      Dear Bob,
      You are greatly confused!!End. Of. Story have a good day:D
      We Mormons do not have the practice of indulgences or nor purgatory...MKAYYY??

      April 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  9. Mavent

    My problem with Mormons stems not from their religion, but from their peabrained, kneejerk opposition to every piece of civil rights legislation that comes along. Did you know it was almost 1980 before Mormons accepted Blacks as full members? Or that they violently and viciously opposed the Equal Rights Amendment? And I'm sure everybody knows how they attempted to prevent gays having equal rights in California. They seem to spend a lot of time and resources pushing Hate and Intolerance. It's no wonder they're 99% Republican.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  10. Mongo

    I would love to have 3 husbands.:))) It is more secure, then have one idiot.

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

      Maybe not marry one idiot?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  11. Trueview

    I like my wifes to be Mormon and dress in their magic underware.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • YeahOk

      Just what does their magic underwear look like? I'm thinking it probably wouldn't show up at a Victoria's Secret fashion show.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  12. JaneDoe

    just goes to prove that bible thumpers are racist. "If your not one of us, your not allowed in".

    April 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Mavent

      Well, that's just silly. Hell, you can't even get in to your local Costco or Gold's Gym without being a member.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Sdixon

      It's Christian's like these that give the rest of us Christians a bad name. This is crazy. Even Jesus Christ wouldn't participate in this pious crap.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  13. pastmorm

    Dang, I want to be on the drugs that guy in the picture is on...he looks SO happy! And it ain't about God....

    April 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  14. jlns

    Check the Bible – Temples, Baptism for the dead, Multiple wives – it's all there. There is nothing the LDS church does that differs from practices in the Old testament. The Church is a full restoration of the ancient Church by God and Christ themselves – and the Holy Ghost will confirm that it is true. Just ask him yourself – if you have the faith.

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

      The Old Testament is the book of the Hebrews. I don't think they needed anything "restored" on earth by some crazy boot-legger from American in the 1800's....

      April 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Beth

      Jewish people would not agree that Mormonism is Judaism. It is quite a bit different than anything Jews do or have done in most every way.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  15. Moi

    Any truth to the rumor that if Mitt Romney becomes president he'll make this the new White House?

    April 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  16. Robert

    Funny how out of all the dozens of dignified and respectful photos CNN took during their visit to this temple, they pick one that makes this church leader look like a hand-clapping, grinning. born-again crazed Evangelical. Accidental? I think not. Obviously a very subtle bias was intended here. You failed again CNN.

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

      Or the opposite . ..

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

      Can you do better? Then go ahead, do it. Stop sitting in your little chair and criticizing when you don't know what you're talking about. Do it better if you can. Otherwise, shut up.

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

      Heck no! CNN did a great job with the photo they chose. I mean, he did make that face didn't he? He's thrilled he's getting more and more tax free money for the church by advertising ahead of the Romney campaign. Why are you ashamed of one of your own Elders? Can't brainwash people easily enough?

      April 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • chirpieguy

      I dunno, I just thought he looked happy...

      April 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  17. Stacey

    Great journalism. Thank you. I learned a lot!

    April 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  18. zip

    I love the Mormons that are outraged when we question their beliefs. So let's make it simple. Do you as a Mormon believe that Jesus Christ appeared in upstate New York in 1825?? If you answer yes, that is blasphemy. And if Mitt Romney states on TV that Jesus appeared here in 1825, he will lose by the largest landslide in the history of the US. And for that reason alone, God Bless America!!

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

      I also believe Jesus appeared to Moses on the mount and gave him the Ten Commandments. How does that make me blasphemous?

      April 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • tony

      Made of handy local rock, instead of eternal un-loseable material.

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

      Do you also believe that a child
      Being concepted without fertilization is possible? You're insane.

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

      Yes. I do believe it. America was one of very few places in the world to allow religious freedom and it set the stage for christs gospel tobe restored. Gods hand was in the making. Why do you think millions of intelligent, educated people around the globe have a testimony of this? Blasphemy? No? Faith in gods church with living prophets just as in times past who testify of christ? Yes.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Bryan

      Zip: First of all, it was in the Spring of 1820. Second the great thing about all of this is that anyone (Mormon, Non-mormon) has the power to know if this really happened. I'm not going to convince you. I wouldn't even try. All I would say to you is that God does not intend his children to walk in darkness, so he has provided ways to help us find the truth out there. Whatever truth we're looking for. Truth in relationships. Truth in religion. Whatever we need. This verse in the New Testament (James 1:5) works. You (or anyone) just has to apply it. I think we all get so wrapped up in the details of our lives that we forget, or we never learn, that God wants us to pray to him and ask him for truth. This scripture tells how to find it.

      April 7, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  19. TownC

    These are beautiful sacred buildings. They remind me of the Temple of Solomon from the Bible. Many will criticize and find fault but the best way to learn about temples and Mormonism is to go to the source. To learn more go to Mormon.org.

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

      They should be terrific. The Tax Dollars of Millions of us, making up the short-fall due to religious tax exemption, have effectively been used to build them

      April 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • zip

      Go Mormon.org to learn about Mormons??? Smoke another bowl!

      April 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Jill

      Better reference: http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/BOM/cr/long.html

      April 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Dr. Bob

      I am a Jew. The temple of Solomon looked NOTHING like a Mormon Temple. THE temple is described in full detail in Leviticus- do your homework and use some critical thinking dude.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  20. tony

    Exactly how is 137 multimillion dollar temples a valid charity expense? And tax-exmpt to boot.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • TownC

      Religion in general and Mormonism in particular provides an intrinsic value to society. It makes bad men good and good men better. That is why religion has a special charity exemption!

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

      Yup, a good burning t the stake always helps the general population become happier.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:03 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.