On May 28, a press conference was held in the South Visitors’ Center on Temple Square to unveil a new public exhibit: a cut-away scale model showing the interior architecture and layout of the Salt Lake Temple. The LDS Newsroom and Deseret News posted detailed stories with additional images; in this post I just want to toss out a few ideas for discussion.
First, why didn’t someone think of this thirty years ago? That reaction, of course, just highlights how informative and helpful the exhibit is. All good ideas have a we-should-have-thought-of-this-before quality. For visitors, the exhibit dispels the natural misconception that the interior of the temple is similar to the interior of most Christian cathedrals: a large, open, dimly lit chamber furnished with wooden pews and marble statues. The exhibit shows how different is the interior of an LDS temple. Even Mormons who often frequent the Salt Lake Temple will find the exhibit interesting, as it shows areas and rooms not generally seen, such as the large assembly room on the upper floor.
On the other hand, I’m not sure this would have been an acceptable Visitors’ Center exhibit thirty years ago. While I doubt this exhibit is in direct response to the Big Love depiction of the interior of an LDS temple, it certainly reflects a more open and public discussion of LDS doctrine and practice than was the norm a couple of generations ago.
Two General Authorities spoke at the press conference, Elder Hinckley, the executive director of the Missionary Department, and Elder Walker, the executive director of the Church’s Temple Department. That’s a subtle reminder that every LDS-operated historical site is staffed and operated by missionaries. As door-to-door tracting and street contacting become less welcome and less productive, alternative approaches (member referrals, interactive online discussion, historical sites) become more valuable as missionary outreach tools.