This is an off-topic post, and if the subject doesn't interest you, please don't bother to read it.
One of my good friends from work, a fellow teacher, is a devout Mormon. Though I am a practicing Roman Catholic, I have Mormons and former Mormons in my family tree. Over the many years my friend and I have known each other, we've talked religion many times, always very amicably and without judging each other. It's been mutually rewarding and we find we have much more in common as Christians than we have differences. My friend invited me to go to the Open House for the new Temple in Rexburg, Idaho this evening after work. The Church released 180,000 reserved tickets to take the tour, and all have been taken. The tickets are free.
Mormon Temples are very sacred to believers, and once they open, the only people allowed inside are members of the Church who have what is called a Temple Recommend, meaning they meet the strictest rules of the Latter-day Saint faith. Before the formal opening of the Temple, however, an open house is held for a month or two and everyone--including non-Mormons-- is invited to take a tour.
There are around 125 temples in the world today in the LDS religion. Idaho Falls had one of the first ones, as this area is predominantly Mormon. Rexburg and the Upper Snake River Valley have been growing rapidly, and the church decided Rexburg needed its own temple. Ground was broken on it about two years ago. It formally opens next month.
Temples are important to the Mormon faith because it is there that the followers get married (sealed for eternity--one stays married in the afterlife), get baptized for their dead ancestors, and any number of other sacred ceremonies. When members enter the temple they must show their Temple Recommend, which they get from their bishop and which states that they are in good standing with the church. The member then must change out of street clothes into white garments. The rooms in the temple get progressively brighter as one walks upward to the Celestial Room, which is supposed to resemble Heaven. The Celestial Room in the Rexburg Temple has a giant chandelier in the middle that reflects every color of the spectrum. The temple is, indeed, an awe-inspiring place even for non-members such as myself.
Devout members to not smoke, drink, go to R-rated movies, or shop on Sunday. They also give a tithe of 10% of their income to the church. Like any dominant group, they can exclude non-LDS people from their circle of friends. I imagine outside of the Mormon heartland, they are often the ones who get excluded.
In the current presidential race, one of the candidates, Mitt Romney, is a Mormon. This has caused him to have the same types of problems that John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, faced in 1960 when he ran for president. So far, Mr. Romney has acquitted himself very well concerning his faith and how it would effect his role as commander-in-chief. One of his opponents, Mike Huckabee, has used Mr. Romney's Mormon faith against him. I find this to be a very low blow similar to tactics used to discredit John Kennedy in 1960.
In any case, it was an enjoyable and enlightening trip to the Rexburg Temple. I have added some photos I took tonight after we finished, and hope you enjoy them.
I didn't take this one, but it's an excellent shot.