I read an article recently by a non-Mormon who visited the Salt Lake City temple and was disappointed or offended that she could not go into the interior of the building. That’s a common sentiment from visitors to our temples, who find themselves relegated to either touring the temple grounds (impressive, on its own, at some of our temples; Dullsville at others) or dropping in at the Visitor’s Center, which many of our temples don’t even have. This is very different from the practice with some other faiths or denominations, whose sacred buildings are often open to visitors.
Without going into detail about what happens inside Mormon temples (there is another post here that addresses that), there are some good reasons not to be upset that you can’t get in. In no particular order (actually, in a very particular order…the order I thought of them), here are five:
1. If it helps, we have pictures.
Check out lds.org or mormon.org for pictures of the interiors of LDS temple. A direct link to some of the pictures is here. Granted, looking at pictures of the Sistene Chapel isn’t the same as being there (or so I’m told; there are federal prisoners who travel more than I do), but at least it will give you an idea of what it is like. And I’ll tell you from experience, outside of the bathrooms and clerical offices, I’m not aware of any parts of the temple that aren’t pictured in these sources. So you can at least see that there are no sacrificial altars (altars, yes; sacrificial alters, no), demonic statues, or bowling lanes.
2. It was open to tourists. You just missed it.
All of the LDS temples are open for visitors either prior to their dedication or prior to their re-dedication (if they have undergone significant remodeling). Those open houses often are so popular that we have to replace the carpets prior to dedicating the building. You get the see pretty much the whole shooting match, with general explanations of what goes on in each of the rooms. But once the temple is dedicated, it no longer is open to the general public. With so many temples under construction now, you have at least a fair shot of eventually catching one of these open houses. It’s worth a visit.
3. It’s not just you. Nobody gets to just drop in for a visit.
LDS temples are what I would call “working” buildings. No one goes just to hang out or check out the chandeliers. If you go into the temple, you are going for the purpose of performing sacred ordinances, and that is taking place throughout the time that the temple is in operation. So even if I go to the Salt Lake temple while I am on vacation, I don’t just show them my recommend and then go roam around the building.
4. Really, it’s not just you. Not even all Mormons get to go in.
In order to enter an LDS temple for the purpose of performing ordinances there, you have to have a “temple recommend.” A recommend is conditioned upon you being an adult member of the Church for at least a year (youth can obtain recommends for limited purposes, such as performing baptisms for the dead or being “sealed” to their parents) and meeting certain worthiness standards, such as chaste living, having a testimony of Jesus Christ, having a testimony of living prophets, and striving to obey the commandments. Not everyone is willing or able to meet these requirements, and therefore not everyone has a temple recommend. If you met all of these requirements, you would be able to enter, too. Of course, you would be a Mormon. We are happy to arrange that…
5. We are just trying to keep the sacred, sacred.
Look: We know that much of the world doesn’t accept that our temple ordinances are inspired, necessary or sacred. That’s fine with us. But to us, the temple is the most sacred place on Earth. We work hard to prepare ourselves to be able to enter, and within its walls we make covenants that we believe bring us closer to God. We hope that by respecting the sacredness of the temple and the covenants we make there, we will be blessed by God. We choose to acknowledge the sacred nature of the temple by limiting public access to it (just as the ancient Israelites limited access to their tabernacle and temple). You might be a decent enough bloke not to come charging in to heckle us or throw bubble bath in our baptistery, but not everyone can be counted on for good manners. Candidly, we would be within our rights to be completely secretive and tell or show you nothing about the temple. But we don’t do that. We try our best to balance our desire for reverence with your interest in knowing what is going on.
It’s not a personal slight. We aren’t saying you aren’t a good person. You might very well be a better person that me (don’t get carried away, that’s a really, really big club). But this is something special and sacred to us, and so we put some limits on how a person is able to enter. That doesn’t come without cost. We have to deal with all sorts of nutty rumors and accusations about what goes on in the temple. We’re willing to put up with that in order to enjoy having a sacred spot where we can, for a short time, withdraw from the world and draw closer to God.