May 8, 2001
This is a report about a recent temple excursion in which two women and three men attended an endowment session in one of the large LDS temples. That would not in itself be unusual, if the people were faithful Mormons. (Only Mormons in good standing with the local Mormon authorities are allowed to participate in the endowment ceremonies.) However, none of this group was a faithful Mormon. Although one of the men is still technically a member of the LDS (Mormon) church, the other four people have officially left the church, and all five would be considered "apostates" by the Mormons. So, how and why did these people do this?
For obvious reasons, the identities of these people, and some of the details of their adventure, must remain confidential. I can assure the reader, however, that the story is true, and that - other than the fictitious names of the participants - everything is authentic.
Let me give fictitious names to these apostate temple-goers to make the telling of the story easier: Jack, Joe, Bob, Jane and Alice.
Jack is a former Mormon missionary, with a great sense of humor, fearless and fearsome - a daredevil. He conceived of the project and tested its feasability.
Joe, also a former missionary, is still nominally a member, but definitely no longer a believer.
Bob left Mormonism many years ago, and was interested in seeing the modern ceremony, since it has changed so much since the last time he attended as a faithful Mormon: the blood oaths have been removed, there is no more Protestant minister portrayed as an employee of Satan, and much of the presentation is now done by film and sound recordings - all different from the ceremony as he remembered it.
Jane, an activist in helping people recovering from Mormonism, had never been through the endowment ceremony during her Mormon days. She wanted to experience it, since her parents are still faithful Mormons and attend the temple regularly.
Alice, when she was still a Mormon, attended the temple regularly, but always felt uncomfortable because she never felt the "spirit" as the Mormons say one should feel in the temple. She always felt that she just "didn't get it."
Jack, Bob, and Jane are presently married to non-Mormons; Joe and Alice are divorced and single.
Why would this group of former Mormons do such a thing? That is a legitimate question, and one which the group discussed among themselves. First of all, there are certainly reasons why one should NOT do such a thing. The temple and its ceremonies are considered by Mormons to be very sacred (as well as secret), and they go to great lengths to protect them from public view. In a sense, this group was planning to invade the sacred precincts and thus - at least in the Mormon view - defile something sacred. Another reason not to do it would be the possibility of getting caught: temples are guarded by the Mormon plain-clothes private police force ("Church Security").
Some of the individual particpants' reasons have already been suggested. As a group, there was probably some element of simple mischievousness and the challenge of "putting one over" on the Mormons. But there was much more than that. The Mormons believe that God protects their temples, that "evil" (such as apostates) cannot enter there, that those officiating in the temple have unusual "powers of discernment" and can, through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, recognize anyone present who is not truly worthy. Mormon folklore is full of such stories, often relating how a company of Saints was gathered in the temple to begin the ceremony, and the officiator announced solemnly that there was a person present who was unworthy to participate, and the ceremony cannot proceed until that person leaves. Of course, some shame-faced person quietly slipped out, having been identified by divine inspiration. You can't fool God! Or can you?
One of the major group reasons, then, was to test (actually, to prove - since they already knew) whether the "spirit of discernment" would catch them. As you will see, God must have been somewhere else that day and not in his temple.
The temple selected for this adventure was one of the newer temples, located in a major American city. It had many of the auxiliary features that most smaller temples lack: cafeteria, clothing rental, attached visitors' center and supply store. It also had endowment sessions scheduled to begin at frequent times throughout the day and evening.
In order to gain admittance to any Mormon temple one must present a "recommend," which is a personal identification card, valid for one year, issued by one's local Mormon bishop (pastor) and countersigned by the bishop's stake president (regional supervisor). Only very worthy Mormons are issued such recommends, and only after a personal interview which inquires into the strength of their faith and their obedience to church commandments and practices. It is estimated that less than ten percent of the members of the church hold currently valid recommends. Obtaining such a recommend for each of the group was obviously, then, the first major hurdle.
Jack was able to solve that problem. The exact method which he used must remain confidential, but it was not through theft or counterfeiting or any illegal means. He was able to obtain valid, authentic blank recommends for each of the group.
The evening before going to the temple, the group met at a motel where the out-of-towners were staying and filled out the recommends for each participant. Some participants used their real names, others used fictitious names. For the signatures of the "bishop" and "stake president" the participants signed for each other, some using the correct names of bishops and stake presidents (obtained from a church directory of officers), some using fictitious names. Several of the men asked the women in the group to sign as "bishop" and "stake president." Since Mormon women never hold these offices, this would be a further test of the "spirit of discernment."
The next morning the group drove together to the temple and entered, singly and by twos, so as not to attract attention. No one had difficulty at the reception desk, where each recommend was examined by the kindly old temple worker, who welcomed each one with a quiet word and a smile. Each person was directed properly to the men's or women's locker rooms by one of the many temple workers - the male temple workers dressed in white suits, the women in long-sleeved, high-necked white dresses - who stood everywhere with smiling faces to help the "patrons" who were going to go through the endowment session.
Since almost none of the group owned the appropriate temple clothing, the first stop was at the clothing rental desk to rent the necessary items, $2.50 for the complete outfit.
One concern was that none of the participants was wearing the "sacred garment" as underwear. Every temple-worthy Mormon wears this distinctive undergarment at all times, and anyone in the temple who was not wearing such underwear (other than a Mormon who was receiving his "first endowment") would be immediately identified as an interloper. This proved to be no problem. No one noticed this lack of the sacred garment.
Each member of the group proceeded to the appropriate locker room and dressed in the white clothing (trousers, shirt, tie, socks and slippers for the men; full-length dress (long sleeves, high neckline), stockings, and slippers for the women) and proceeded to the station where the names of the dead are handed out, on whose behalf the temple patron is receiving the endowment as proxy. Each person then proceeded to the chapel, carrying in a small bundle the apron, robes, sash, and veil (for the women) or cap (for the men), and took a seat in a pew, to wait for the company to be assembled for the beginning of the actual endowment ceremony.
An elderly female temple worker came to the front of the chapel and took her place at the organ, and began to play what was intended as inspirational music. It was clearly not "inspired" or "inspirational." This poor sister should never have been allowed within a hundred feet of any organ. She missed every other note, every other key, and had no idea of organ playing. It must have been painful to hear.
As the company waited quietly for the moment to be ushered into the temple proper, the officiator entered the chapel and quietly asked Joe and Alice (from the group of five) if they would be willing to be the "witness couple" for this session. The function of the "witness couple" is to come forward at several points during the ceremony and kneel at the altar of the temple to represent all those present. It is a special honor to be asked to be the witness couple. Usually the witness couple is a man and his wife. (Joe and Alice were not married.) They agreed to do so. This somewhat disturbed Jane, since Jane had never been through the endowment ceremony, and had been relying on Alice to stay with her through it all and prevent her from doing anything wrong. The witness couple, however, always sit at the very front, apart from the others in the company.
This caused no problem for Jane, however, since the temple workers are quite accustomed to people who are unsure about procedures and rituals, and are ever ready to be of help and prompt those who do not know exactly what to do or say.
The company for that session consisted of about thirty people, of which two-thirds were women. The officiator ushered the company into the endowment room, with the witness couple in the forward two seats, the other men on the right side of the room, and the other women on the left. The room could have held twice as many people.
The endowment session began, with the officiator standing at the altar, his words coming from a tape recording. He actually said nothing himself, but was simply a robot (for the text of the entire ceremony, click here). At the appropriate time, the film presentation started, the beginning of the most sacred experience for any Mormon.
There were no problems for the adventurers. Jane did not tie her sash correctly. She tied it with the bow in front, rather than to the side, as is correct, but no one noticed. When required to covenant to "consecrate all you have" to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the five did not say "yes" as the others did, but no one noticed. When the circle was formed for the "true order of prayer," and Jack failed to wear his slippers to the altar, no one noticed. When Alice started to giggle during the prayer circle (at the request that God bless "our prophet Gordon B. Hinckley") and Joe had to struggle to stifle his laughter, no one noticed. When "going through the veil" Jane had difficulty remembering the sacred passwords and had to be prompted by the temple worker, but no one noticed.
Nor did anyone notice that none of the group was wearing the required underwear, the "garment" - in fact, the two women wore no underwear whatsoever.
No one noticed that the recommend presented by Jack did not have an expiration date written on it.
No sign that the "spirit of discernment" warned the temple workers that "agents of Satan" (to use their terminology) were in the holy place.
After completing the endowment session and changing back into street clothes, the group gathered in the parking lot. Jack took longer to join the group, since he called upon the temple president in his office, to ask a few questions. (Jack, it should be noted, looks like a typical Mormon bishop.) The temple president welcomed him and was willing to answer most of his questions. Jack learned from him that temple attendance is indeed low. The president also confirmed that for quite some time the temple had been forced to "recycle names," that is, reuse names for which an endowment had already been performed by proxy by a living Mormon acting "in the name" of the deceased person. The temple president verified that because of a shortage of names of deceased persons, those names were being used over and over again. Besides being totally unnecessary labor, this fraud is being perpetuated in the temple every day where the faithful Mormon performs those rites to help the deceased person to "heavenly glory," when that deceased person has already had his "ticket" bought and paid for by someone else.
The temple president also proudly explained an incentive program to increase attendance: any Mormon who would attend three endowment sessions on the same day would be given free lunch in the temple's cafeteria. He did not indicate the success of the program.
Aside from the conclusions already indicated above about what this experiment shows about the sanctity of the Mormon temples, and aside from the indignation that Mormons will feel that these people penetrated successfully the sacred precincts, any Mormon must ask another puzzling question: these five people each went through the ceremony as proxy for a deceased person, and those five deceased persons now are recorded in the church records as having been "endowed" and therefore eligible to enter the Celestial Kingdom. Should the Mormon view those endowments as valid? Or invalid (since they were performed by "unworthy" people)?
The group felt that they had achieved both their group purpose and their individual purposes. Alice commented afterwards that it had always bothered her that she didn't "get it" when she would go to the temple as a faithful Mormon. She said that this experience demonstrated to her vividly that it was the faithful Mormons sitting in that endowment room of the temple who didn't "get it": they didn't "get" the fact that the entire hocus-pocus is meaningless and a hoax.
Jane was especially glad to have experienced the ceremony, for the first time, and was saddened by the vivid realization that her parents still could believe such things. She was especially saddened at the point when Adam and Eve are shown being cast into the "Lone and Dreary World," to think that Mormons (like her parents) think of this wonderful world in such a negative way, as a curse.
Bob was astonished at the many changes in the ceremony, and commented that if he were still a Mormon, he would have to think that the changes indicate that the present-day church is in apostasy.
All participants agreed that they were glad they had the opportunity. Some even said that they felt that it had been an uplifting experience - although undoubtedly not in the orthodox Mormon sense.