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.
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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.
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.
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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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.
Wow I am amazed out how much hate there is here! What is everyone so afraid of that makes them so hateful towards the Mormon church. How about we just take a minute to remember Christ at this Easter time. Here is a good Easter video of what Christ has done for all of us:
EJ, you want to be careful to not confuse fact with "hate".
Mormons bring hate upon themselves with their history of misogyny, racial bigotry, anti-gay bigotry, and ostracism of people who choose to leave their church.
Time to accept responsibility for your hateful beliefs.
There's a reason they were run out of Nauvoo, Illinois in 1840.
America caught on to their cult.
Their false ideas are heretic.
They try and draw others into their cult under the guise of being a legitimate religion.
We just call out hypocrisy when we see it here in America!
... how is this the first time? we publish photos and floorplans of temples all the time, and the public is welcome to tour temples all the time before they are dedicated.
Good for you, proud of you...mighty nice of you...gimme me a break!
Any of you Mormons care to explain planet Kolob?? Can't seem to find it in my Bible. Somebody?? Anybody??
I'm guessing that you can't find it in your Bible doesn't mean much. It'd be like asking a Muslim why Allah isn't in the English Bible, or asking a Jew why a Bat Mitzvah isn't either.
If the Mormon beliefs don't match up with the Bible, why are we asking them to prove it with the Bible? If they believe in more scripture, then that is good for them. It shouldn't have anything to do with your Bible.
Perhaps the can't explain the planet Kolob because they don't know/teach/believe in such a place?
I have nothing to be ashamed for. Mormons do. Shame on them for trying to foist a bumbling Romney upon our great land.
You will vote for him and you will like it!
As an Atheist, it never ceases to amaze me how much hatred and bickering Christians dish out towards those not of their faith and in particular towards the Mormon faith. Why do you not reach out towards others with love? Those of the Mormon faith are good people and do not deserve such treatment. Great article by CNN by the way.
Thank you Michael
did you love Jim Jones at Jonestown? David Koresh and the Branch Davidians? See, it is OK to point out stupidity.
Agreed. Weather you believe in God or not, we should all be reaching out to each other as part of the human family instead of all of this hate.
"did you love Jim Jones at Jonestown? David Koresh and the Branch Davidians?"
Oh man, those guys were awesome. We used to sit around the campfire and tell jokes. Jim Jones had some great "punch lines". 😉
Blah, blah, blah. Touchy feel good crap.
Mormonism is a cult. They try to shove their beliefs upon America.
That, sir, offends me.
Just look at California Prop 8. LDS Utah spent millions. They're a danger to America.
The proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. Just sayin'
and biglo.. which religion is not doing the same? The rabid Christians vehemently opposing the mormons are doing just the same..
The only solution is to put all the religions into the same bin..
I don't believe for a minute that the LDS Church is NOT financing the Romeny campaign through SuperPacs that (thank you Supreme Court) do not have to reveal who the donations came from. Study up on the Equal Rights Amendment (for women) that was killed/financed by the LDS Church... anywhere there is a vote for women, gays, minorities or poor people the LDS WILL be there with their open wallets. The LDS church does not have to disclose its earnings in the U.S., so they operate under the radar effectively – and if you speak too loudly against them, you're likely to wake up dead. Do your own research, but be sure to ask questions.
Your still alive aren't you?
Take a tour of the forbidden city in Salt Lake–if that doesn't convince you that these people are delusional, then you should stay there. They're on the same page with the Moonies and the Scientologists.
oooohhhh, I know. I agree 100% – if you're interested in the LDS church, don't JUST read the LDS public relations material found on their web sites – they've been working diligently since Romeny announced his campaign. – A good start for reading material is "Blood of the Prophets" by Will Bagley, or rent the movie, "September Dawn" starring Jon Voight.
Mormonism is not accepting and psychologically harmful of of gays and lesbians within the faith. Mormonism creates a culture of judgment, fear, and anti-human self repression. They do not have my support because of these things. It is a religion that divides. This is not Christ-like.
I don't see any of the other Christian sects "uniting" people, either.
Culture wars in this country over abortion rights, stem cell research, gay rights, climate change, religious freedom (for Muslims) ... not to mention the actual wars the Judeo-Christian policymakers in this country got us into in the Middle East ... Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Shall we go for Iran, too?
"We're OFFTo See The Wizard' !!
Damn mom's are freaks and idiots!
Mitt is a tool as well....Can we send them all to North Korea where they can drink the kool aid there?
Hey! Stop dissing my faith!
Hey Willard, wud up?
Most Mormons are extremely ignorant of Mormon history outside the trimmed-down version presented by the church. When they finally read it from credible, unbiased sources, they sometimes feel betrayed and lied to by the organization. Unfortunately, this happens late in life for many people. Mormons need to get acquainted with the scholarly history of the church, and then make an educated decision about whether or not they want to be a part of the organization.
And Catholoicism is less of a cult?
Peace be with you... And also with you... and you... and you...
Like my momma tought me, if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. I see so many false, negative and hateful comments here. You aught to be ashamed.
Guess they weren't taught by yo' momma.
Sorry. Here in America, when we see something outrageous, we point it out.
What's shameful is burying your head in the sand
and not seeking the truth.
Like Jesus taught me, if you see a blasphemous lie that is masquerading as God, point it out.
"Like Jesus taught me"
You must be really old.
Mormonism is a cult. In 1840 they were run out of Nauvoo Illinois. They took over Utah and they are aiming to take over the White House and the USA and force their beliefs on all of America. They salivate at the prospects, but America is on to their game. Just look at how they handle the issue of child custody toward people outside Utah. They try and shove their belief on everyone else. No thanks. And America will say "no thanks" to voting for Romney. Those slick "and I'm a mormon" commercials ain't gonna work.
look like someone needs to do a little soul searching.
When Joseph Smith "translated" the Golden Plates, amazingly it came out in 1611 King James English....
Yeah, right Joe.
Mormonism is as valid a religion as any other. Whether it is truly a Christian faih is open for debate. Mormons settled Utah and did not take it over. In fact, considering they are by far the majority in Utah they have done a very good job at staying out of staes politics (the church I mean, not individual Mormons).
No matter how much hate you throw around or how much misinformaiton you spew-out....the mormons will just keep growing and controling...you will vote for Mitt, you know you will, and you will enjoy it becuase the prospect of obama in the WH makes you want to puke. So...just submit and enjoy it!
Mormons are about as much Christian as Muslims are. They both are going to burn int he lake of fire.
CULT!!!! Plain in simple.
Not a cult, plain and simple.
Brandon has suffered brainwashing..."Plain and Simple".
As part of the Temple wedding ceremony, Mormon men are given their wives "secret" name to call upon death so that she may follow him and their children into heaven. If he does not call it, she cannot go. He therefore controls her eternal faith.
Can you imagine living in constant fear that if you do anything to anger your husband, he can condemn you to an eternity apart from your children?
No wonder Anne Romney's never had an argument with Mittens ...
Please stop the lies, go watch tv.
Where did you find this strange bit of information?
sounds like an attack at them rather then just stating a fact?
To find out what Mormons really believe go to:
Wow, now that is where the truth is! Good stuff!
Great idea. And I think I'll ask the crooks on Wall Street to describe what they do, too.
My guess is that they'll also provide a slightly rosier-than-reality depiction of their own activities.
I think I'll rely on independent sources of news that told me that Mormons embraced polygamy until society shamed them out of it, banned blacks until about a generation ago, discriminated against women, and stuck their bigoted noses into California's gay marriage ballot measure, wanting to force their "righteous" concept of marriage (sick joke) on other people.
I wouldn't expect any companies corporate website to have unbiased information. For an objective perspective, check out mormonthink.com
Pharisee Church Leaders. Mormon Church Leaders. Pretty much the same. Jesus referred the pharisess as a "Brood of Vipers."
My apologies for the typos. I meant Jesus referred to the pharisees as a Brood of Vipers.
This religion certainly does seem more like a cult.
If Joseph Smith had not been killed, I firmly believe he and his followers would have gone the way of all cults: Ending in mass suicide.
All the poster referring people to LDS site to learn the "truth" about their faith are funny. Like all religions, Mormons believe in self-proving "logic," that requires huge leaps of faith and a willingness to check your analytical brain at the door.