Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

Temples And Genealogy
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

The Church has given up on some projects. A temple in suburban Nashville, Tennessee, was abandoned when the neighbors objected to potential traffic problems and nighttime lighting. The mayor thought the temple threatened the suburban estate character of the area. The Church sold the site to a Southern Baptist congregation and built a smaller temple in nearby Franklin, Tennessee. By contrast, a planned temple for Redlands, California, even with a 130-foot spire that will soar above a mostly two-story city, sailed through. Churches there are exempt from height requirements. Traffic does not loom as an issue, because, as a city councilman said, "someday we will probably widen Wabash Avenue."

It took five years to obtain permission to build the 70,000 square-foot Boston temple on its seven-acre plot above Route 2, one of the spoke-like highways pointing toward Boston's hub. The finished product was smaller than originally planned. An early architectural rendering called for a large structure with six steeples like the Salt Lake City temple. In carrying their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the neighbors challenged the Dover Amendment, a fifty-year-old Massachusetts state law allowing large religious buildings in residential neighborhoods. Neighbors charged that the zoning exemptions violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment ban on established religion because it gave "enormous power and privilege to religious individuals and institutions to determine the characteristics of neighborhoods." They claimed that the temple would light the neighborhood at night, produce steady streams of unwanted visitors, and make nearby homes unmarketable. The Supreme Court sustained the findings of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, however, and turned down the challenge without comment. In a later ruling, a state judge banned the construction of a high steeple, and the dedication occurred while the ruling was being appealed.

The dispute ended in May 2001 when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled the steeple essential to the religious mission of a Mormon temple, though the neighbors considered it an eyesore. The dispute hinged on whether the steeple was critical to the temple 's work, and the Supreme Judicial Court overturned the appeals court judge who had distinguished the religiosity of the different parts of the building. Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, in a seventeen-page opinion, ruled that as the structure as a whole would be used for religious purposes, "the steeple is an essential part of the religious mission of the temple because the Mormons believe it is." This ruling effectively ended the case, and the steeple was soon in place. The Church bought the houses of some neighbors unhappy with the outcome.

No litigation resulted from the Church's 1999 announcement to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple, though there were some local grumbles. The original structure, Joseph Smith's last temple from the early 1840s, was constructed at a time of violence and abandoned. By the 1850s, the temple had been leveled by fire and tornado and the limestone remains carried away. The reconstruction on the same high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River followed the original architectural drawings that surfaced in 1948. The original building cost about $1 million; the next time around, this large and elegantly crafted edifice, cost about $30 million. Craftsmen replicated the thirty human-faced sunstones, as well as moonstones and starstones, on limestone pilasters. The artisans also carved twelve limestone oxen to support the baptismal font, a feature of every temple replicating an Old Testament pattern.

As the completion neared, another event attracted attention. Rocky and Helen Hulse began a nearby ministry to the Mormons. Rocky, a former Mormon, and his wife Helen, sounded the alarm because the Nauvoo temple, dedicated June 27, 2002, might well draw people away from other churches. Hulse wanted to educate and warn people about Mormonism. He considered the temple "an insult to Christianity." Six hundred people attended the Hulses' first presentation at a Danville, Iowa, church. For their second presentation, they ran a full-page ad in a local paper. "It is sad that we will have to work so hard to educate people about the beliefs of Mormonism," said Rocky Hulse. "Every Christian denomination and every other religion works at making its beliefs known." But the Hulses and other nearby pastors saw conspiracy. The "Mormon church does not want people to know what they really believe." Hulse continued, "The Mormons aren't bad people, they are just deceived people."

Only about 250 Mormons live in the Nauvoo vicinity, but 350,000 attended the open house. Some locals welcomed the financial windfall visi tors brought, but others saw menace rather than grandeur in the building, fearing that the Mormons would dominate the area's economy, culture, and politics as they did many years ago. The expected surge in real estate prices, driven by new Mormon settlers, mostly retirees, caused some residents to leave. LDS Church spokespeople asked for tolerance, promising to be good neighbors. "We would support them in the ways they worship, and we ask that they do the same for us."

Despite local friction, temples continue to rise. Brigham Young predicted that during the milennium thousands of temples would dot the earth. They are a critical part of the Church's huge genealogical enterprise. In the past, Church members, eager to find family names for vicarious ordinances traveled to foreign countries to pour over parish registers, old Bibles, cemetery stones, and censuses, searching for connecting ancestors. Genealogists still search for such missing leaves, but in another of the ways that technology has influenced traditional activities, genealogical records are now gathered wholesale. Microfilm, databases, computers, and copiers are employed to link families for eternity.

Teams of professional genealogists visit depositories of vital statistics worldwide to film records. These films are processed, and in the "name extraction" program, volunteer workers scour them for family connections, recording names and dates of marriages and births. These names are alphabetized and indexed on the massive Ancestral File database containing 35.6 million names with family relationships. The International Genealogical Index (IGI) database contains about 750 million individual names. These indices are available online, displaying about 10,000 search results per minute. They refer to microfilmed records, which can be sent for and perused. The names, dates, and relationships are submitted to the temples, and names are given out to temple patrons who perform vicarious temple work for the deceased people.

Mormons justify this work with Paul's statement to the Corinthians in the Bible. "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?" Leaders point to Peter's mention of spirits who hear the gospel in the afterlife. "For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." Mormonism's own Scripture amplifies these teachings. Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Smith's nephew and the sixth President of the Church, recorded a vision he received in 1918 (now Doctrine and Covenants section 138) while meditating on Peter's account of Christ's visit "unto the spirits in prison." He noted that "faithful elders" preached the gospel of repentance and redemption "among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead." Those who repented were "washed clean" and rewarded "according to their works." Smith saw leaders "laying the foundations of the great latterday work, including the building of the temples and the performance of ordinances therein for the redemption of the dead." This work, "the redemption of the dead, and the sealing of the children to their parents" creates "welding links" between all members of the human family. These verses justify the vast genealogical work.

Latter-day Saints take intangible, spiritual ideas and ground them in the specific physical world. Once the commitment to do genealogical work for those no longer living accelerated in the early 20th century, Church members performed endowments for millions of people, teaching that the ceremony is necessary to redeem the deceased from "spirit prison." Although according to church teaching the ceremonies are not binding on any who choose to ignore them, living descendants of people enrolled on Church records have objected. In 1995, Jews were aghast to discover that 400,000 Holocaust victims had been baptized and endowed by enthusiastic Mormons. The Jews demanded that the names be removed, and the Church agreed to do so. Seven years later, the Jews charged that there were still at least 20,000 Jewish names on the list and demanded removal. Jewish leaders called the baptismal practice well-meaning, but "arrogant and insensitive." All the ill feeling notwithstanding, at a "warm and satisfactory" meeting in 2005 between Mormons and Jews, the groups came to an amicable resolution, planning a joint oversight committee to monitor the Church's lists. Holocaust victims have been deleted from the lists, and additional names will be removed when brought to the Church's attention. Both sides agreed that finding and removing the names of all deceased Jews in the 400 million-name list would be impossible. A three-million-name Yad Vashem database will not be mined or posted on Mormon databases. Mormons are to submit only the names of their ancestors.