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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Matthew 18:20

I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had time to tell you about the trip that the BSU & I took last Friday to Draper, Utah. We went there to do something I thought I would never do and I promise I never will do again. You see, we went on a tour of a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints temple. LDS temples are not simply beautiful big buildings like a Catholic or Episcopal or Anglican cathedral where worship services are held for all who would enter. One cannot simply stop in for a moment of quiet prayer and reflection or to light a candle or to take communion during a Eucharistic service or join in song with a beautifully voiced choir during a praise service. Mormons don’t do those things in their temples. Mormon temples are sanctuaries where their belief-specific ordinances are performed- baptism in behalf of deceased persons, marital and family sealing and instruction about the purposes of mortal life and the blessings to be received in the next life. It is a beautiful building, no doubt about that, with very nice woodwork and stained glass windows and very fancy lighting on the walls and suspended from vaulted ceilings. You can see the pictures on this KSL slideshow. If you imagine the nicest funeral home you have ever been in and multiplied that by a couple times you would get an idea of the scope and grandeur that the architects designed into the building. This new temple is open to the public for a short time, right now before it is sanctified and closed off to the public, and a large portion of the LDS population, forever.

And that is my problem with the LDS belief system and why the title of this post is what it is. Latter Day Saints believe that they are THE CHURCH that Jesus Christ implemented here on earth and they draw some of their beliefs from Old Testament scriptures. So just as Moses made a portable temple for God to dwell in while the Israelites wandered in the desert, and just as Solomon and Herod and every other Jewish king built and maintained a temple- where God lived and provided instruction to the Jewish population through the appointed hierarchy of temple leaders; so too do the LDS believe that God lives in their temples. God doesn’t (apparently) live in the hundreds of churches scattered on nearly every corner here behind the Zion Curtain or the thousands of them around the world. Those buildings, where Mormons meet every Sunday are just meeting houses where children receive bible lessons and adults share their testimony and sing hymns. But God doesn’t live in those meeting houses, God lives in each of their 129 temples around the world. The temples that are closed to the public…

These temples are also closed to LDS members unless they have been approved and recommended by their local ward bishop. LDS bishops are not formally educated in religious seminaries like your pastor or a parish priest. Instead, they are elder members of the local congregation, in good standing with the church hierarchy that are appointed for 2 or 3 year stints. They are the local insurance agent or business owner or mid-level civil servant working down the hall from you. And this person- a man in every case, knows everything there is to know about you and your family. You will sit down with this person every year with your W-2s and determine exactly what your tithe to the church is, and any additional financial obligations to the church’s building fund that you will be expected to fulfill. You will also sit down with this man for any other religious guidance you may require for family matters, marital problems or questions you have about the celestial kingdom that you have been told to expect beyond the grave. And this bishop will consult his manuals and handbooks and give you the answers that the higher echelons of LDS leadership want you to hear. This man also controls your access to the temple. If you can’t meet your tithe, or if you don’t attend services regularly enough or if he has heard some rumor that you might not be living the faithful life as he believes it to be, he can deny you access into the temple. You must present a temple recommend card at the front desk of every temple and if you don’t have one because your bishop has denied you a card, you will be turned away.

And that is where the LDS church fails completely in my humble opinion. I believe Christ’s simple direction that it he is with us wherever we might be. I believe in his example to draw apart from his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane to be alone with his father in prayer. I believe that the Holy Ghost, that made itself apparent to Christ’s followers after his resurrection, is there in the simple church where I worship on Sundays and I believe that I can feel God’s spirit in my home or in the woods or in the desert when I seek him out. When I am on my knees, with my heart open I know I feel God's touch and hear his message, no matter where I happen to be. I completely dispute the LDS belief that God only lives in their fancy stone and carpeted edifices where I can’t go to be close to Him due to their rules. I believe that every believer of any faith has the right to draw close to God, wherever they believe him to live, even if that place is a LDS temple. To deny that opportunity to a LDS believer, even if he or she doesn’t fit the requirements that some bishop imposes is contrary to Christ’s teachings. To prevent an unbeliever to come in for their own enlightenment, soul searching and comfort is beyond my ability to comprehend and illustrates the disdain that the LDS leadership has for those that don’t fit into their elite club.

Finally, after all this, you might wonder why I took a perfectly good afternoon to drive 120 miles to see this temple. Well the BSU said she wanted to go and I of course said I would accompany her. When I met her my BSU was an active, practicing Mormon and she had been married to her first hubby in the Salt Lake City Temple. She wanted to go back to explore something that was very important to her at that time, and so we did make the trip. Now she has decided that she is going to contact the church and request excommunication so that she can be removed from their rolls! Much of what I have shared here came directly from the video we were shown as part of the tour or from the pamphlet that was given to everyone that takes the tour.

You know I won’t be going back. And you also know more about me than maybe I ever shared on these humble pages!

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