Before I went to the temple in Washington D. C. with my family to be sealed for time and all eternity, I went to the temple with a youth trip. The LDS Church’s mission is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone who has ever lived. Perhaps you know that if you want to do geneaology, the place to do it is in Salt Lake City. Well, there is a reason for this.
In order to spread the gospel, it is important first to identify every person who has ever lived. And this occurs through geneaology. For every relative a member of the church identifies, a name is submitted to the temple.
In the temple, work is done for the living and the dead. The LDS teach that work can be done by proxy for the dead. So, LDS people are commanded to go often to the temple. The only time you do work for living is the first time you go, and you do it for yourself.
Before any additional work can be done, a person has to be baptized. And because the adults are busy doing work for adults (there are sacred covenants called endowments that people make in the temple. Having never gone through the temple as an adult, I am not in a position to describe what happens at these times. These ceremonies are sacred to the LDS people, and there are plenty of other sources for the curious), the baptisms are usually left to the youth.
You have to be twelve years old before you can enter the temple to do baptisms for the dead.
Before this happens, though, you usually have a member of the stake presidency (organizational note: a congregation of 100 or fewer people is a branch. A congregation of 100-250 or so is a ward. Wards and branches in a geographical region make up stakes, and they have their own presidencies composed of a President, a first counselor, and a second counselor) comes and talks to the youth about masturbation and what a sin it is. So don’t do it. So, there you go.
I was so naïve, I wasn’t even embarrassed during this conversation, but I’m willing to bet I was the only one who wasn’t.
A few months later, when they are sure masturbation is under control, and when they can get people who will go and supervise the youth, drive the youth, and when they can get people’s parents to pay for the trip, a trip of youth is organized.
So, the youth need temple recommends.
First, you go and talk to your bishop or branch president. First you pray. Then, you sit across from each other, and he asks you the following questions: Do you believe Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God? Do you believe in the gospel? Do you believe the LDS church is the one, true church? Do you believe that the current president of the church is a prophet of God? Do you keep the Word of Wisdom? Do you pay 10% of your income as tithing? Are you chaste? Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men? I think they even ask the youth whether or not we are obedient to our parents, but I can’t remember.
Then you have a closing prayer.
Then you have an identical meeting with the Stake President.
And whether or not you lie during this interview is purely up to you. I never did, but I certainly know people who did and didn’t feel a smack of remorse about it afterward. Nor have they been struck by lightning, that I am aware of.
After all the meetings, you receive a little recommend the size of a business card. They are quite nice now, laminated, with a picture of a temple on it. This recommend not only allows you into the temple, but it also marks you as a member in good standing. For example, if your car breaks down in a strange city and you need assistance, you can call the local bishop, and tell him you are a temple recommend holding member and he will help you. He may or may not help you if you aren’t—but it is more than likely that he will not be suspicious that you are trying to take advantage of him if you have the card.
Now, you have the trip arranged and the recommend, and so you are ready to go to the temple.
We went in a van, and I don’t remember where it came from, but it was larger than just somebody’s van. And there was a sixteen year old boy on the trip that I had a crush on. Jeff Strong. So, I was just in bliss.
There weren’t many of us on the trip—we were a small branch after all. We played cards on the bus and talked during the eight hours. When we got to Washington, D.C., we went out and had Chinese food, and I was nervous because I had never really had it before, and they kept teasing me about what might be in it. I’m sure I had also read a juvenile fiction book about it, too. But, of course, it was really good.
We went with a lovely young couple named Marcia and Walt Stewart, and their baby daughter Karen. After dinner, I think we walked around a bit, and then went to the hotel. I don’t really remember that at all.
The next day, we went to the temple. When we first walked into the temple, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There were old people dressed all in white everywhere. The temples are very elegantly clothed: imported rugs, chandeliers, huge murals on the walls. And this is just the entrance way. If you ever have the chance to tour an LDS temple before it is officially dedicated for the members, do it. The story behind the Washington, D.C., temple is that it is suddenly just there after you turn around a bend, and it caused a lot of traffic accidents the first night it was lit up, in all of its majesty.
We were taken, in the temple, to dressing rooms, and given white baptismal garments and white undergarments. Everything has to be white.
Then, you go to the baptismal faunt, which is much grander than the one I was baptised in at the church. And it is surrounded by statues of oxen. I cannot remember the significance of this.
When it is your turn, you walk down steps into warm water, and there is a man waiting there to baptise you, by immersion. You cross your left arm across your front, and it holds your right elbow. Your right hand holds your nose. The baptiser has his left had on your left upper arm, and his right hand on your right arm, and he says, “___________, In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, I baptise you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” Or something to that effect. And he is reading from some kind of prompter of names. And after he prays, he dunks you completely. And he does this 70 times for 70 names.
Then, you get out.
The people who have died are in the Spirit World, being taught about the same gospel of Jesus Christ that you are being taught about in church, by members of the church who have already died. And those people, who have their eternal souls, and their free agency, can accept or reject the baptismal work that is done for them. You hear stories sometimes of someone having a revelatory experience that someone has accepted the work that has been done for them. For a long time after my experience, I remembered one of the names, and wondered if that meant she had accepted her baptism.
I can’t recall the name anymore.
Generally, the LDS have to get permission from the dead’s family members before their names are submitted to the temple. Of course, this does not always happen perfectly.
All of the presidents of the United States have had their temple work done for them.
But a few years ago, the LDS started baptising in the name of people who had died in the holocaust. Of course, once it was made public, they stopped.
I don’t think I need to say anymore about this. Where would I start?