OK, so I know it seemed weird and you are now questioning the sanity of the Mormons you know.
But imagine, if you will, that you had never seen a Catholic cardinal or a Jewish rabbi or an Orthodox priest or even a Methodist
priest pastor before. Mormons are not unique in wearing clothing with religious symbolism; the only difference is that you haven’t seen it before. So perhaps we could substitute “unfamiliar” for “weird”?
Now, I don’t know exactly what parts (if any) of the temple ceremony you saw. (I don’t have cable.) I don’t know if what you saw was accurate. And there have been changes in the ceremony over the years, so depending on when Big Love’s source(s) left the Church, you may have seen things that are no longer done. I don’t know. But I imagine that whatever you saw may have seemed bizarre. Again, though, please consider that what you saw was more “unfamiliar” than “bizarre.” If you had never seen the host consecrated during a Catholic mass, seen a shofar blown as part of the synagogue services, or an altar call at an evangelical megachurch, those things would seem bizarre as well.
I hope I’ve convinced you to substitute “unfamiliar” for “kooky,” but now you are perhaps thinking that Mormons have brought this on themselves for keeping their distinctive religious practices out of the public eye. (Perhaps you’ve even been offended at the suggestion that you couldn’t enter a Mormon temple because you weren’t “worthy enough.”) Let me say something about that, as I do think some Mormons are partially responsible for the problem by not explaining themselves as well as they could. So let me take a stab at it.
It isn’t that we won’t let you (or your television cameras) into our temples because you would defile them with your unwashed, evil, heathen eyes. It is because the temple ritual is always participatory: there is no observer’s section. If you are in the room, you are there to enter into covenants. These covenants are, we believe, serious business; they are promises to God that you will behave in a certain way. And if you haven’t given some indication that you intend to keep them, then you shouldn’t make them. And the way that you indicate that you intend to keep them is by living your life in such a way that you qualify for a temple recommend (=a paper issued by church leaders, after a series of interviews, that affirms that you are qualified to enter the temple). You wouldn’t let a kid who hadn’t taken algebra sign up for calculus–not because the kid would become privy to the Great, Hidden Math Secrets but rather because the child will not have a good experience without preparation. In this situation, we think the stakes are a little higher than a failed grade, however.
Let me also say that there are no “Great, Hidden Secrets” of the temple. There is a symbolic portrayal of the creation and fall. There are covenants, with ritual actions accompanying the making of the covenants. And while we take these covenants extremely seriously, the content of the covenants isn’t anything that any Christian hasn’t heard before. We don’t covenant to plot the overthrow of the US government or the genocide of people with green eyes or even the contamination of the world cheese supply. We’re talking basic Christian living here.
Let me say one more thing. Remember a few years ago when everyone was weak in the knees over Planet Earth? Sure, it was cool. But don’t think for a minute that watching it was the same thing as feeling your lungs seared by arctic cold or your eyes gritted with desert sand or the earth quiver beneath you as a million hooves pounded the savannah. It wasn’t the same as being there, not even close, because it couldn’t reproduce all of the sensations of being there. If you thought after watching it that you had experienced all that there was to experience, you would be sorely mistaken. You had only experienced a panacea.
By the same token, no TV show can reproduce all of the senses of participating in temple worship. Not physical sensations, obviously, but spiritual ones. Look, I’m not above counting the minutes until sacrament meeting (=our regular Sunday worship service) ends so I can pitch my kids in their classes . . . and then begin counting how many minutes until Sunday School ends. But the temple is categorically different. I’ve been dozens of times, and each time I feel an outpouring of the Spirit of God. You can’t do that on television, and so no matter what you saw on Big Love or read on the Internet, you haven’t experienced the temple. And because you can’t experience the temple outside of the temple, Mormons don’t want you to try, for fear that you’ll walk away thinking that you’ve experienced it when you haven’t.
Note: it should be obvious from the content of this post that I won’t be sympathetic to comments that describe the temple ceremony in detail. Expect heavy-handed comment deletion.