The American Southwest is Mormon country. Or at least that is what it seemed to be in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. For on a recent vacation, whether by luck or by irony, we found ourselves encountering Mormons in unusual ways.
The first was in St. George, Utah, a community founded by Mormons, where we stopped for the night and before leaving the next morning decided to explore the local Mormon Temple and Visitor Center.
St. George actually has the oldest Mormon temple, built around 1870. But of course, you cannot enter it; unless of course you are a Mormon in good standing. The Visitors Center is a far different story; anyone can go in there, and take whatever pictures you like.
But that is hardly the only contrast here. The Visitors Center was very appealing; in fact, one could hardly complain about it. There was a statue of Jesus, with a recording of various verses from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, all of which sounded good and pleasing. There was also a room depicting scenes from a typical family’s life, all of which would be very familiar to any family, and all of which could easily be commended. The Visitors Center also offered any number of resources for free for any who might have even the most passing interest in anything they saw or heard.
Compare that, with the temple a mere 100 yards away. Visitors could walk around the highly manicured grounds and take pictures of the outside of the temple; but there was no entry allowed. In fact, the doors were all locked; windows blacked out; and the only people who we did see enter through a back door, had to be buzzed in. Whereas anyone could go into the visitors center and feel at home and familiar with the teachings and Jesus portrayed there; what happened in the temple, the rituals and ceremonies that only the most devout Mormons could partake in, was closed off; presumably for fear of what outsiders might think, let alone say or do.
Which brings us to Albuquerque, New Mexico. On Sunday morning we visited an LCMS church, which by happenstance was built directly across the street from a Mormon temple. This temple was likewise locked up, windows blacked out, and no one was nearby. The LCMS church on the other hand was bustling with activity on Sunday morning, with about 150 in attendance. My wife and I were visitors, and yet we were welcomed to join in all the rights and ceremonies taking place, including Lord’s Supper. And even if we were not in altar fellowship, we still would have been allowed to stay and worship. Nothing was hidden, nothing was held back, we saw firsthand the worship and the life of the church.
When we departed following the service, the Mormon temple was still all locked up across the street, without even a gate visible to enter in to park.
This brings to mind Jesus word’s in the Garden of Gethsemane in St. Matthew 26:55: Have you come out as against a robber with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching and you did not seize me. Jesus words and teachings are public, not meant to be hidden or held back; but Satan works in darkness, using deception, seeking to devour all who believe.
The Visitors Center was bright and open and very welcoming indeed in St. George; but the temples in St. George and in Albuquerque were dark; contrast that with the LCMS church in Albuquerque which was very bright and open, with all focus on Jesus.
Which would you prefer?