Comer: There can never be too many Latter-day Saint temples
Image supplied, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
As the completion of the Layton temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nears, I find myself more and more excited for when the dedication date is announced.
I know to some this may seem strange. About 15 miles south of Layton, where I live, there’s a temple in Bountiful. About 15 miles north of Layton, there’s a temple in Ogden. I hardly have to go far to visit a temple, so why be so eager for a temple in Layton?
Part of that is because of my life situation. As a single parent, the closer a temple is to where I live, the less time I need a babysitter to cover. But part of it is I just love temples.
I know I am not alone in my admiration and gratitude. I think perhaps the most eagerly anticipated portion of every general conference is the part where the president of the church announces all the new temples. Latter-day Saints have had a lot to be excited about recently as 133 temples have been announced since Russell M. Nelson was sustained and set apart as the 17th president of the church in January 2018. Eighty-four temples have been announced since April 2021. I’ve been amazed as I’ve heard, in addition to the announcement of the Layton temple, the announcement of two new temples in my home state of Washington (Moses Lake and Tacoma) and one in the area where I served my Latter-day Saint mission (Kaohsiung, Taiwan).
According to the church website:
“(Temples) are places specially set apart for sacred service and ceremonies. … These sacred ceremonies lift and inspire participants as they make commitments to follow the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.
“Receiving temple ordinances and keeping covenants unites families together for eternity. Our relationships with those we love can last forever when we honor our commitments to God. In temples, these ordinances are also performed by members of the Church on behalf of those who have died without the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. Such service extends the saving grace of Jesus Christ to all people.”
It’s a tremendous feeling knowing you were able to do something eternally significant for someone that they needed in order to spiritually progress. But, it’s important to note, that in none of this is anyone forced to accept the ordinances performed on their behalf in the temple. The way it was explained to me during a trip to the temple when I was a teenager was that it’s like offering someone a check. They can accept it, and if they do, they’ll receive the benefit of that increased income, but they don’t have to accept it. They can turn it down. It’s their choice.
Beyond the practical importance of temples, there’s the feeling of the spirit that comes from being in them. It’s a feeling that is hard to do justice to. Several years ago, when I was covering high school sports for the Standard-Examiner, I went to the temple on a Friday afternoon. That evening, I needed to be at Box Elder High School for a football game. I went straight from the temple to the game, and while I was on the sidelines, I had the realization that I still felt the exact same feeling of peace that I had when I was in the temple. Imagine my shock. Here I was, covering this high school football game with athletes violently crashing into and tackling each other, probably not using the cleanest of language, and the spirit that came to me in the temple was still with me. It was an incredible experience, and one that has remained with me since, because it taught me that if I am doing what is necessary to feel the spirit, I can have that spirit with me even in moments when I am not exactly focusing on the gospel of Jesus Christ, even moments where I am working at a football game. How could I ever forget or deny the significance of that? How can the church not be praised for a work that brings that kind of peace to its members? Imagine the contention and violence that would be eliminated if everyone felt that kind of peace.
With the dedication of the Helena Montana Temple last month, there have been 178 temples dedicated since the first church pioneers came to Utah. Eighty-four temples have been dedicated in the United States, meaning that over half the number of temples are outside the United States. Still, there frankly probably aren’t as many of them as there should be, especially in Utah. The final part of that last sentence might be shocking to some. How are there not enough temples in Utah when 17 have been dedicated in the state as of today? But according to the church’s website, there are 2,173,560 members of the church in Utah. That means that there is one temple per 127,856 members. That’s the largest ratio of any state in the country. The state with the next highest ratio is California (one temple for every 104,142 members). Utah and California are the only two states with a ratio of higher than one for every 100,000. The ratio for the entire United States is one temple for every 81,000 members.
A recent Deseret News editorial addressed an article written by the Wall Street Journal that described temples as “stone-clad monuments exhibiting the church’s vast and expanding wealth.” Said the editorial:
“The truth is, temples are monuments, but not to wealth. They are beacons of light and peace, piercing clouds of cynicism, conflict and despair. They are the church’s tangible, enduring insistence that truth, beauty, love and joy are real, that God loves his children now and forever, and that these ideals are worth everything we have.
“Temples are built to outlast life’s vicissitudes and to welcome Christ himself when he comes again. For those who wonder whether God is real or whether there is life after death, temples offer a stone-clad promise that the answer is a resplendent ‘yes.’
“Anyone can see that temples are expensive, but the real question is whether they are worth it.”
Based on my knowledge and experience, to that, I answer an emphatic yes as well.
I’m reminded of a story in the New Testament that I recently studied.
“Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
“Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,
“Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
“This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
“Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.
“For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.” (John 12:3-8)
In his book “Jesus the Christ,” James E. Talmage explained why Mary’s actions were so meaningful to the savior. He said:
“To anoint the head of a guest with ordinary oil was to do him honor; to anoint his feet also was to show unusual and signal regard; but the anointing of head and feet with spikenard, and in such abundance, was an act of reverential homage rarely rendered even to kings. Mary’s act was an expression of adoration; it was the fragrant outwelling of a heart overflowing with worship and affection.”
Bryan Richards, who operates a website dedicated to expounding on Latter-day Saint scriptures, correlated the story to temples.
“Today, some criticize the Church for spending too much on our temples,” he said. “‘Think of how many poor people could be fed with the money used on that temple,’ they declare with Judas-like hypocrisy. Yet our offerings to God, whether Mary’s costly spikenard or latter-day temples, must be made with only the best, regardless of cost.”
Said Donald W. Parry in his 1994 publication “Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism”:
“The builders of the Kirtland Temple used the very finest materials available in its construction. At the time, some suggested that the temple be made of local timber, but Joseph Smith insisted that the building be made only from quarried stone. Although this was a financial hardship and posed difficulties for the few men available, Smith’s directions were followed, and a sandstone quarry was purchased and used. The exterior plaster of the temple was made from crushed glass, bone, and other materials at great sacrifice…’Come ye, with all your gold, and your silver, and your precious stones, and with all your antiquities; and with all who have knowledge of antiquities, that will come, may come, and bring the box-tree, and the fir-tree, and the pine-tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth; and with iron, with copper, and with brass, and with zinc, and with all your precious things of the earth; and build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein’ (D&C 124:26-27).”
Last week, I drove to the Latter-day Saint meetinghouse that is across from the Layton temple after I got off work. It was almost 11 p.m. and both my boys were asleep, but I just wanted to have a moment where I could look at the temple and enjoy some spiritual uplifting and enlightenment. I felt immense gratitude that this was even a possibility. Apparently, I was not the only one who had such a desire that night. There was another car in the parking lot when I arrived, and another car arrived shortly after I did. Later, I noticed someone drive right up to the closed gate of the temple and park for several minutes before turning around and driving away.
The takeaway for me that night, which was really just a reinforcement of something I already knew: There can’t ever be too many temples.
Contact Ryan Comer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @rbcomer8388 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rbcomer8388.