When my wife (at the time my fiancé) was considering joining the LDS Church, some concerned friends invited her to a presentation at their church about Mormons. She came back with all kinds of wild misinformation, but the most attention-getting claim was that in the Mormon temples, young virgins were given to the high priests to be ravished. When she asked me about it, I almost started laughing, and she asked why.
“Do you have any idea how low our temple attendance is? If that story were true, they’d have to expand the parking lot!”
Kidding aside, I think I understand why there are so many bizarre stories about what goes on inside LDS temples. Because the temple is the most sacred place for Latter-day Saints, we speak about what goes on there only in the most general terms. Many, if not most, members are unsure about the extent to which they appropriately should talk about the temple, and so we usually err on the side of saying less than more. So when someone purports to have the inside scoop of what happens inside temple walls, their information comes from one of two places: Their imagination, or accounts from former members of the Church who are unlikely to be inclined to paint the temple in a favorable light. As a result, what I have been told about what happens inside the temple bears little, if any, resemblance to what actually does.
With the caveat that I consider the temple a sacred place, and therefore I will be somewhat circumspect in what I say, several questions about the temple most certainly can be answered, and I will attempt to address two of them here.
Why Can’t Everyone Go Inside the Temple?
There are several answers to this question. First, you most certainly can go inside a temple. The Church opens every temple, prior to dedication, for public tours. These are extremely well-attended, to the point that sometimes the carpet has to be replaced before the temple can be dedicated. Sometimes when temples are remodeled the Church opens them again for public tours before they are rededicated. If you are not in a location where you can tour a temple, the Church publishes pictures of the interiors of the temples. For just an example, you can follow this link: http://mormontemples.org/eng/atlanta/interior-temple-photos.
After the temple is dedicated, it is a different matter. Only people who have been members of the Church for a year and who meet certain “worthiness” requirements are permitted to enter the temple. Local leaders issue a “temple recommend” to members following interviews in which members are asked questions such as whether they have testimonies of Jesus Christ, whether they live chaste lives, whether they are honest in their dealings with their fellow men, whether they pay an honest tithe, and whether they keep the Word of Wisdom (which I’ll discuss in another blog…it’s that thing that says that Mormons shouldn’t smoke or drink). The questions are answered on the honor system, unless a church leader is already aware of something that would make a person ineligible for the temple.
The worthiness requirement is to ensure that the people who attend the temple will treat their attendance there as a sacred privilege and will comport themselves consistent with that privilege. This has always been the case when the Lord has had a temple on the earth. In Biblical times, God limited access to various areas of the temple. Women were limited to a certain area outside the temple proper. Men without a priestly lineage were limited to another area. Even rank-and-file priests were unable to enter the “holy of holies,” which only could be visited by the high priest. Part of what makes the temple special is the fact that not everyone can just waltz into it. It is a special place reserved for people who have prepared themselves to be there.
What Happens Inside the Temple?
In Old and New Testament times, the temple was not a place for regular worship services. Instead, the temple was reserved for sacred ordinances were that were different from daily or weekly devotions in a synagogue. The same is true today. Church members meet at local chapels for their regular Sunday services. (Curiously, temples aren’t even open on Sunday). The temple, by contrast, is a place where members of the Church make sacred covenants (promises) and perform certain ordinances.
The ordinances performed include such things as:
- Marriages, which are also referred to as “sealings,” because of the Church’s belief that temple marriages and the families resulting from them remain binding after this life. This is the basis for the phrase “Families are Forever” that often comes jumping out of Mormons when we talk about what we believe. It’s a doctrine worth being excited about.
- An “endowment” ceremony, in which members are instructed about the Plan of Salvation, and which culminates in members making covenants to do certain things (like being faithful to their spouses, living the commandments as set forth in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and being willing to dedicate their lives to the Gospel).
- Proxy baptisms for the dead (addressed in another post on this blog). Other temple ordinances can also be performed by proxy for family members who have died.
- Receipt of the temple “garment,” which is underclothing worn by those who have been to the temple as a reminder of the covenants they have made with God. (Another post also covers temple garments).
No animal sacrifices. No pass-the-virgin stuff. However, much of the teaching there is through symbols, which in my view helps people to really search for the truth behind the symbols and, once finding it, to internalize it. It’s the same reason Jesus taught in parables: People who didn’t really want to know would never understand what he was saying, while the sincere in heart would never forget it.
What I can tell you about the temple is the same thing that I can tell you about the Bible and the Book of Mormon: Nothing I have been taught there has ever encouraged me to do anything bad. The temple has reminded me that I am a child of a loving Heavenly Father who created this world for my benefit, as a place where I could learn lessons essential to my spiritual growth. I’ve been taught of the sacred sacrifice of Jesus Christ and have promised to commit myself to following His example. I have been taught to be loving, respectful and faithful to my wife. I have knelt at an altar there, taken my bride’s hand in mine, and promised to be true to her for eternity.
I don’t care what anyone else believes: I think that all of those are pretty good things.