Temples, Tours, and the Truth

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Whenever a new Mormon temple is built in a particular city, a 3- or 4-week “open house” is held so the public can see the inside of the new structure. Once the open house is complete, the temple is immediately dedicated in elaborate ceremonies officiated by a member of the First Presidency. After this, only Mormons with temple recommends—which are identification cards ascertaining that a certain list of prerequisites have been met—are allowed entrance into the temple to perform special rites for both themselves as well as those who have died.

Thousands of people visited the Sacramento temple, located in Folsom, CA, during its open house during late July and August. According to the local media, the open house would help visitors better understand the LDS religion. For instance, the July 28, 2006 Roseville Press-Tribune reported that it “is meant to share with the public the inner workings of the temple.” In fact, “church representatives (were) prepared to answer any questions the public has and be as transparent as possible about their practices.” LDS spokeswoman Maureen Dudley is quoted to say that “our ceremonies aren’t secret but they’re sacred.” Lisa West, the temple media coordinator, added, “There are no closed doors in there. We’re here to dispel the myths.”

Is all of this true? Or are these just empty promises? I toured the Sacramento temple on two different days. Midway through my first tour, we entered the men’s locker room area. An elderly male guide gave a short one-minute talk while we were gathered just outside the locker area. As I walked over to the cubicles that housed the various lockers, I noticed the words “Initiatory room” printed on the wall just outside the door well.

Spotting the wife of our guide, I pointed to the room and asked her, “What happens in this room?” She looked at me and, in a stuttering voice, whispered, “Oh, there are just more lockers back there.” Wanting to give the lady another chance to get it right, I asked again, “Are you sure? It says ‘initiatory room’?” “Yes,” she replied with a new confidence. “There’s nothing more than lockers there.”

Knowing that this room was the washing and anointing room—a place where this 60ish-year-old lady would have certainly visited in other temples where she served—I believe it was obvious that she had just lied to me! After the tour was complete, I asked one of the young 19-year-old male missionaries in the fellowship hall about this initiatory room. After attempting to come up with an answer to no avail, he finally said, “I’m not sure I can give you that information. But I know someone who can help.” This was, he said, an issue that he was not supposed to answer on his own.

He walked me over to Lee T. Perry, the mission president of the California Roseville Mission and the son of L. Tom Perry, a senior apostle who (at that time) was the fourth in line to become the next Mormon prophet. Certainly with his impressive pedigree, this man could help set the record straight.

Me: “What is the initiatory room?”

Lee: “This is a place where a person is cleansed so he can go through the rest of the temple.”

Me: “On my tour the guide made it appear that this was just a room with more lockers.”

Lee: “Well, that’s not true.”

Me: “Why did she not tell the truth?”

Lee: “I wouldn’t put it that way. Perhaps she felt put on the spot and didn’t know how to answer.”

Me: “I’m not sure I understand. She must have known what this room was.”

Lee: “It might have been an honest mistake.”

Me: “Are you telling me she didn’t know what an initiatory room was?”

Lee: “It’s a very complicated matter.”

Me: “I think you have two options, Mr. Perry. Either hide the room with a curtain so nobody will see it. If this is your choice, then you need to be honest with the media by telling them that, because some parts of the temple are considered so sacred, no details can be divulged. You must then quit telling the media that there are no secrets in your temple. Your other option is to give full disclosure, telling the public about each of the rooms and being more complete with what really goes on inside the temple. Then you would have the right to tell the media that ‘there are no closed doors.’”

I decided to visit the temple on the following Monday, which was the next day that the temple was open since it is closed on Sundays. While our group was walking through the baptismal font area, I asked Laurie, the wife of the temple guide, whether or not we would be seeing every important room in this temple. “Absolutely,” she quietly assured me. Wanting to make sure she wasn’t mistaking my question, I asked, “Every room?” “Uh huh,” she said in a matter-of-fact manner.

As we came to the men’s locker area, I was surprised that her husband had allowed the group to gather directly in front of the lockers. This gave me a chance to walk partway into the “initiatory room” and peek inside, confirming that this was indeed the washing and anointing room. After the guide provided a quick explanation of the lockers, he asked, “Are there any questions?” “Yes,” I answered, pointing behind me. “What happens in this initiatory room?” Since I was not wearing a button-down shirt with a tie, and my slacks were hanging in the closet back in my Southern California home, I think it must have been obvious to him that I was not a Latter-day Saint. Looking a little confused as he looked at the sign, he stumbled over his words and said, “I’m not sure what it’s for.”

The 20 or so Mormons in our group seemed to fidget since this room embarrasses many members in the church. This may very well be the reason why changes were made in the washing and anointing room in the spring of 2005, which lessened the awkwardness of having temple workers touch the participants on different parts of their bodies. But there is no doubt that most, if not all, of the members of our group knew the purpose of this room, even if the guide really didn’t. After an awkward pause, a middle-aged gentleman in the group whispered quietly to the guide. “Oh yes,” the guide finally responded, seeming pleased that he suddenly remembered the purpose of the room. “It’s a place where people are cleaned.” Not wanting to allow my original question to be answered so vaguely, I persisted. “Is it like a shower?” “Yes, like a shower,” was his response.

Probably because this was not a very good description of what really happens in this room, the gentleman who had whispered to the guide looked directly at me and said, “It’s a room where the temple Mormon goes cleansed to prepare him for the rest of his time in the temple.” Relieved that he was off the hook, the guide quickly exited the room and everyone followed. As we were exiting to the next room on the tour, the gentleman sidled up to me and whispered, “We call it the washing and anointing room. It’s what we do at the beginning of the endowment ceremony.” At last, I was receiving some accurate information, though certainly no thanks to the official guide who was supposed to be the one who would help “dispel the myths.” Of course, no additional details were offered, and I wouldn’t expect them to be much more detailed. But at least someone—I found out his name was Paul—was willing to call the room by its name as well as provide a short explanation for what went on there.

After we finished the short tour—again, very little information was provided in any of the rooms that could give a clear picture as to what really happens in a temple—I ran into Paul again in the punch and cookie line at the hospitality center. Paul told me that he is a member of the bishopric at a local Sacramento-area ward. We spoke for about 45 minutes on the temple ordinances and other issues related to Mormonism. Before we parted, he told me, “You know, I was talking to my wife as we were leaving the temple tour, and I told her that there was no reason why the guide had to blow off your question like he did. It’s not like the washing and anointing room is a secret.”

“Ahh,” I responded, “I’m glad to hear you say that. Based on the response from the tour guide, though, it really appears that it really is a secret.” Paul gave me a disagreeing look and said, “I’m not sure what these guides are told to say by the officials in charge. But I think not being forthright is not the right way to approach questions like yours.”

When Bill McKeever and Keith Walker (director of Evidence Ministries,) toured the temple during the third week of the open house (August 14th), their tour guides were Richard and Dawn. When directed to the locker room, Bill wandered into the adjacent “Initiatory Room” where patrons are ceremoniously washed and anointed. Perhaps my conversation with Mr. Perry during the first week had some kind of effect because Bill noticed that the words “Initiatory Room” near the entryway were covered with white tape. Bill exited the small room and waited for Dawn to finish addressing the group. According to Bill, he asked Dawn, “What’s in this room?” To which she replied she was unsure, but that it was a “transitional room” to the other rooms they would visit on the tour.

When Bill and Keith’s group was escorted to the ordinance room adjacent to the celestial room, Bill discreetly asked Dawn if the large curtain at the front of the room was raised when the room was in use. Dawn said no. Bill then said “So it is always down,” to which she said, “uh-huh.” Keith mentioned the room looked like a theater but that it lacked a projector like the previous room had. Dawn said many assume there is a stage behind the curtain but she said that was not true. When Keith asked what was behind the curtain Dawn said it was a little area that led in the next room (celestial room) and that there was really no significance to it.

When their group came to the sealing room (where couples and families are sealed for eternity), Dawn explained to the group that she and Richard make it a point to visit a Mormon temple once a month. After the couple bore their “testimonies” to the group, everyone exited the temple. They were then ushered into the hosting center. It was here where Bill asked Dawn for further clarification.

Bill: “Dawn, I have a question. If you and your husband go through the temple once a month, then you should have known that that was the washing and anointing room.”

Dawn: “Uh-Hmm.”

Bill: “But you said you didn’t know.”

Dawn: “Right.”

Bill: “Why did you say that?”

Dawn: “Because we’re told to say what we can say.”

Dawn then asked if she could get someone else to better answer Bill’s questions. Bill said that wasn’t necessary and that he only wanted to know why she answered that way. Bill then asked about the curtain. She insisted that she did not know if the curtain went up because she had never gone through a “session” in this temple before.

Apparently Bill’s questions greatly bothered Dawn. About four hours later two security guards drove down to the intersection where Bill and Keith were distributing our 4-page temple handout. While Bill was across the street, the two men approached Keith, taking a few pictures of him before telling him that he was banned from entering temple property for the duration of the open house. A security guard named Doug accused Keith of causing contention during his tour. Asking what it was that made him “contentious,” Keith was told that the tour guide was uncomfortable with the questions he asked of her. Ironically, it was Bill, not Keith, who asked the questions.

The next day Bill and Keith were approached by security guards named Ron and Bill. With a big smile Ron, who is the temple’s chief of security, wanted to tell them how happy he was that the Christians were there distributing the newspapers because “you are doing us (the LDS Church) a favor.” Calling Ron’s bluff, Bill said, “Then send your missionaries down here to help us if you really believe that.” Ron only laughed. (We hear comments like this all of the time from Mormons, but it seems we never get any assistance from LDS Church officials in a distribution of materials that is supposedly helping their cause! I had spoken to Ron during the first week, and when he asked me if there was anything he could do to make our distribution any easier—since we were “helping the church”—I immediately replied, “Give us a tent on your temple grounds with some chairs. We’ll stay there and then distribute these at the gate when the guests leave.” Of course, my wish was not granted.)

Keith then asked Ron why the church banned him from the temple, and Ron said it was “some of the comments you made.” Bill asked Ron, “So you can’t ask any question you want even though that is what you told the papers?” Rather than answer Keith’s and Bill’s inquiries, Ron switched topics by telling them he did not come down to “bash,” but that he came down because he was concerned for their “safety.” He then tried to imply that he had the power to have the Christians removed. This is absolutely not true. He had no such power. Besides, how much sense does this make when he had just stated how much Bill and Keith were helping his church?

Keith still wanted to know the specifics as to why he was not permitted to enter temple property. Bill explained that they were both very low-key when they talked with Dawn. The only question loud enough for the group to hear was the one asked in the men’s locker room. Bill spoke in a hushed tone to her in the ordinance room and waited until the group had dispersed in the hosting room before the final dialogue took place lest he cause her any undue embarrassment. Ron said the tour guide felt “threatened.” Threatened? “I think she felt convicted,” Bill responded. She should have. What she said was absolutely false.

Ron said he too did not know where the washing and anointing room was located. Bill explained that it was near the locker room but that the small sign that said “Initiatory Room” was now covered. “When you cover something,” Bill said, “it means you don’t want them to know what is underneath it.” Bill said this game of semantics was very offensive and deceptive. Ron said he was sorry if they were offended, to which Bill pointed out that his apology meant nothing because the church has no desire to change its policies. Bill reminded Ron that according to Mormonism, true repentance means you stop the sin. The church never had any intention of showing all of the rooms in the temple despite what they told the media.

On August 18th three more of our volunteers toured the temple. When in the men’s locker room they noticed that the entry to the Initiatory Room was now blocked by several chairs.

The unfortunate part is the great majority of those touring this temple would never recognize the misinformation that they were being fed on their tour. Even more disturbing is the fact that the tour guides are willing to do what they are told by their church officials in an attempt to purposely conceal information. They have apparently learned well from the words of Mormon Apostle Boyd Packer, who said:

“There is a temptation for the writer or teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful. . . In the Church we are not neutral. We are one sided. There is a war going on, and we are engaged in it. . .” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” BYU Studies, Summer 1981, pp. 263, 267).

Perhaps they should instead take heed to BYU Professor Robert Matthews who, in 1994, stated:

“Even sharing the truth can have the effect of lying when we tell only half-truths that do not give the full picture. We can also be guilty of bearing false witness and lying if we say nothing, particularly if we allow another to reach a wrong conclusion while we hold back information that would have led to a more accurate perception. In this case it is as though an actual lie were uttered” (Robert J. Matthews, “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness,” Ensign, October 1994, pg.54).

As a visitor to seven temple open houses, I can say that the information provided in the average tour is usually so nebulous that it is meaningless unless a person is LDS or is a person with a good working knowledge of the religion. Casual observers are left befuddled by the end of the tour and could easily conclude that temple worship is a valid practice ignored by Protestant Christianity. But the modus operandi of the Mormon Church is providing fewer details about their doctrines and practices, allowing it to be accepted by observers as just another Christian religion. Wouldn’t it be nice if the church leaders would just put full disclosure into practice? This is wishful thinking, though, because the more information they provide, the less likely potential converts would want to join the Mormon religion. Something tells me that future temple open houses will probably not change very much at all—such a shame!

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