Are we mainstream?

Slate has an interesting photo-essay on the architecture of mega-churches. One of the featured buildings is the Conference Center in Salt Lake City (known among Church Historical Department employees as the “meganacle”). I was struck by the following bit of commentary from the essay:

The approach of the architects, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca of Portland, Ore., shows the influence megachurches have had on mainstream religions.

I’ve tried parsing this several ways, but it seems to me that the only way of reading it is as claiming that Mormons are a mainstream religion, as opposed to the evangelical megachurches.

71 comments for “Are we mainstream?

  1. Davis Bell
    October 11, 2005 at 10:10 am

    Nate, I read the same thing and wondered if that’s indeed how they meant it. In what universe are Mormons considered mainstream while evangelicals are not? Weird.

  2. john scherer
    October 11, 2005 at 10:18 am

    Not to generalize evangelical mega-churches; but perhaps it’s the lack of rock and roll bands and screaming preachers in our services.

  3. D. Fletcher
    October 11, 2005 at 10:20 am

    I “parsed” that piece to mean, most of the mega-Churches are non-denominational, each a unit unto itself, with no branches.

    Mormonism, in this context, is mainstream, in the sense that we are a single denomination with a central set of elders, and the Conference Center is simply one meeting house out of thousands, albeit a very large one.

  4. lyle
    October 11, 2005 at 10:26 am

    IMO, the whole article was somewhat flawed. The Conference Center has been praised by numerous designers, etc.

    -They complain about too much lighting & TV stuff. Um…duh. Didn’t they just note that it used for biannual worldwide broadcasts?

    -They complain that it has lobbies, which are too secular. Hello? What about socializing before/after worship events; or that the Center is multi-purpose and used for civic and arts events also?

    -Finally, they complain that the roof contains no religious symbols, but inspires contemplation? Hello…does someone need to explain symbolism to someone supposedly doing architectural critique? The writer doesn’t know jack about “conservation” and God’s command for man to be a ‘steward’ of the environment. The whole rooftop is a religious symbol…of the best type.

    They also complain that religious symbols (steeples, crosses, etc.) have been “co-opted” by mainstream religions. Non sequitor?

    end rant.

  5. b bell
    October 11, 2005 at 10:26 am

    Its a big building so why would it not be included in the list of megachurches? Imagine that you are in the MSM (main stream media) in NY or Washington and you think that religious people are really out there. In fact you do not socialize with anybody that actually goes to church. In your book what is the difference between a Mormon and a Baptist? Answer? Not much. Both denominations are really out there. What a bunch of wierdos you think so you lump the Mormons in with the other Christian churches.

  6. J.R. Knight
    October 11, 2005 at 10:44 am

    To paraphrase an old saying: “I’m sure you believe you understand what you think you read, but I’m not sure you realize that what they wrote isn’t what they meant.”

    Thanks for a very interesting article. So thoughtful, too, of them to misspell the name of our Church. (Is nitpicking a sin?)

    Perhaps if the architects had included some flying buttresses in the design of the Conference Center it would look more ‘inspiring.’

  7. October 11, 2005 at 11:00 am

    Here’s are the whole quotes for anyone who doesn’t make it to the link:

    “The largest religious assembly space in the country is the recently completed Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in downtown Salt Lake City. It was built to accommodate 21,000 people for the biannual general conference of church members, but it also houses the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and is used for church pageants. The approach of the architects, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca of Portland, Ore., shows the influence megachurches have had on mainstream religions. The ecclesiastical imagery is confined to the giant pipe organ. The arena seating, the mainstream decor, the profusion of lighting and television broadcasting equipment, as well as the surrounding lobbies and vestibules, are distinctly secular. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

    “The exterior architecture of the Conference Center is more architecturally ambitious than most megachurches. It recalls Depression-era stripped classicism, the sort of thing that Paul Cret did—with much more conviction—in buildings such as the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington, D.C. What is remarkable about the Salt Lake City building, however, is the landscaped roof, which includes stairs, terraces, fountains, and reflecting pools. The design, by the Olin Partnership, is not historical and contains no religious symbols. Yet, like most parks, it has a contemplative, quasi-religious atmosphere. The central features are a three-acre alpine garden, dramatic views of the surrounding mountains, and the spires of the Salt Lake Temple. The landscaping, which steps down the walls of the building, shrouds it in a veil of greenery. And it provides an answer to the question of how to design a megachurch: Make it disappear.

    Probably one of the major issues here is that there aren’t large crosses all over the place or that the building itself is not built in the shape of a cross. By that standard, just about any LDS edifice would be arguably secular in architectural terms … though I’m sure a trained architect could point out how wrong I am in saying this.

    We may need to think a little bit about some of these criticisms though. I remember a review of the LA Temple saying that the celestial room reminded the reviewer of a Marriott Hotel lobby. Another (non-LDS) blogger told me he was going to write a review of the (pre-dedication) LA temple visit he did and made a very similar comment — specifically mentioning a “hotel lobby” feeling. I gave him the link to the previous review mentioned and I don’t think he ever ended up blogging about his experience. But the fact that more than one person had that reaction makes me ponder the point a little more.

  8. October 11, 2005 at 11:00 am

    The architecture of the conference center and its finishes are quite mainstream (except the roof which is quite nice). To suggest otherwise is to think your suburban tract home is not mainstream. Our theology, not so much.

  9. Daniel Peterson
    October 11, 2005 at 11:13 am

    I’m not entirely sure that I fully grasp why we should be very much troubled if somebody thinks that our celestial rooms resemble elegant hotel lobbies. Our vision of the afterlife is one centered on humanity (which we regard as being of the same genus as God) and on family life and family ties. We believe that humans can become like our divine parents. We are anthropocentric, even religious humanists, and do not see that as necessarily contradictory to being simultaneously theocentric. In view of that fact, there is no theological reason, it seems to me, why our sacred spaces should resemble Gothic cathedrals, say, with the intent of revealing humans to be puny and insignificant before the awesome, inscrutable majesty of the God of the medieval scholastics. Yet something like this appears to be the expectation of some of the critics of our architecture. (There were similar comments published in the Georgetown student paper following a tour of the Washington DC Temple: “God’s Hotel-Motel in Suburban Maryland.”) Our very different doctrines should and do express themselves architecturally.

  10. October 11, 2005 at 11:28 am

    Daniel Peterson,

    Even as I wrote my comment, I was wondering to myself if we really want to emulate the Christian European architecture of decades past … or not. It’s a good question. I’m reacting more to the barb that I sense is there in that particular criticism than to any personal desire for a gothic-style celestial room.

  11. D. Fletcher
    October 11, 2005 at 11:31 am

    I do wish… our Celestial Rooms had a function other than, a hall, which those at the end of their sessions are encouraged to quickly leave. If the room were used for contemplation and scripture study, its design might change to be more… spiritually expressive.

    I love the notion of the Celestial Room in the Cardston Temple (though I haven’t been there). It’s at the very center of the building, and has high windows which look over the top of the rest of the building. Each of the rooms is a step “up” in a physical representation of the eternal progression, finally leading to the Celestial Room.

    The Cardston Temple, though not so famous as the Salt Lake Temple, may be the Church’s high point of architecture and design.

  12. October 11, 2005 at 11:38 am

    When I saw the Kirtland temple inside, I remember thinking that it really was a lot more like a chapel or a meeting house (with all its pews) than what I think of as a temple. I’m sure non-LDS critics could have made snarky comments about its appearance or beauty in comparison to other more famous structures. Yet in Doctrine and Covenants we read that some of the most wonderful revelations and spiritual manifestations happened there.

  13. October 11, 2005 at 11:42 am

    Agreed, Cardston is fabulous.

    I don’t know why (some of) those here think that the options are A) what we have or B) Gothic. What about ALL THE OTHER ways to build a building? How about those that haven’t been done before? How about a consideration for the landscape and environment around it (kinda like the conference center roof)? The fact that we talk so much about the importance of light, yet our buildings rarely/never utilize natural light. There have been so many advancements in architecture/design/sustainability in the last 20 years why are we not utilizing any of these ideas? You’re right, the gothic style does not have a monopoly on godliness. But our current architectural choices even less so.

  14. D. Fletcher
    October 11, 2005 at 11:46 am

    I had my intrinsic involving spiritual experience while touring the Kirtland Temple. It’s true, it isn’t a temple in the sense we now think of temples. But the Kirtland Temple is directly, immediately connected to the origins of the Church, as in “Brigham Young glazed these windows, Hyrum Smith dug the foundation.” And the revelations, and history of the building. It literally glows with spirituality. The rebuilt Nauvoo Temple has none of this power (though the picture of the single remaining wall of the Nauvoo Temple after it was burned is still powerful).

  15. Daniel Peterson
    October 11, 2005 at 11:48 am

    Just for the record: I’m not uncritical of Mormon architecture. Im fact, I have some strong opinions on the matter. For a period, when I was young, I dreamed of being an architect myself. The only obstacle was my absolute and utter lack of artistic talent. Of course, I realize that total absence of talent hasn’t hindered certain others from becoming architects, but I, personally, found it a decisive liability.

    And I do favor celestial rooms as places of prayer and meditation, rather than merely as transit halls to dressing rooms.

    And I, too, love the Cardston Temple — among other things because its designers were manifestly influenced by the immortal Frank Lloyd Wright.

  16. D. Fletcher
    October 11, 2005 at 11:50 am

    Our chapel, in Manhattan, used to have beautiful windows that looked out on Columbus Avenue and Broadway. When the temple was built above us, our windows were removed to make a single wall and a windowless chapel. Some of this was for acoustic reasons, but I still think the chapel itself lost a lot of spiritual appeal.

    The Tabernacle has windows and doors on every side. But the Conference Center, built mostly below ground, is windowless. Why?

  17. Daniel Peterson
    October 11, 2005 at 11:52 am

    “I don’t know why (some of) those here think that the options are A) what we have or B) Gothic.”

    So far as I’m aware, nobody here thinks that.

    I mentioned Gothic as one alternative possibility, both because the vaguely Gothic has been implicitly held up by various published criticisms of Mormon architecture as a kind of standard that Mormon architecture fails to meet and because it serves as a useful theological antithesis to what I see as fundamental relevant Mormon doctrine.

  18. October 11, 2005 at 11:55 am

    “I always wanted to pretend I was an architect.”

  19. D. Fletcher
    October 11, 2005 at 12:00 pm

    I always wanted to be an architect, too. It’s my other love. (besides music, theater, design, literature, and cinema)

  20. October 11, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    But did you always want to pretend to be an architect? Ahhhh, the subtlety of Seinfeld…

  21. Melanie
    October 11, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    I think that the function of the conference center as a broadcasting site– lights, cameras, etc– probably would not be supported by windows because natural light is a little shifty sometimes. I think it would be nice though, to have some skylights or something better than the fake yellow window stripe things that are on the sides near the organ.

    I wish they’d do that in chapels too– the standard design feels rather confining without windows– and of course I have fond memories of the gleaming white, windowed Southern Baptist chapel of my earlier years…

    The conference center didn’t seem much like a church building to me… it seemed like a very nicely done concert hall.

  22. a random John
    October 11, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    Not only did they imply that Mormons are mainstream but they were much more positive about the building than they were about the others, which they were very critical of. They also mentioned that it isn’t for weekly meetings, which is another differentiator. In any case, they seemed to like our great and spacious building more than the other great and spacious buildings.

  23. October 11, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    “In view of that fact, there is no theological reason, it seems to me, why our sacred spaces should resemble Gothic cathedrals, say, with the intent of revealing humans to be puny and insignificant before the awesome, inscrutable majesty of the God of the medieval scholastics.”

    Not that it provides much argument to the contrary, and certainly not that it is necessarily suggests the medieval scholastics were in the right, but still, let’s not forget that there is, of course, Moses 1:10.

  24. Greg Call
    October 11, 2005 at 1:09 pm

    For those that are interested, here is a post by Daniel Peterson on Church architecture:
    And here is a post I did on the Conference Center roof:

    While I disagree with some of the Slate author’s assertions, he is certainly right that the best thing about the Conference Center, aesthetically, is its comparatively low profile as a result of the roof and landscaping. A Mormon version of the Salt Palace would have been a disaster.

  25. Daniel Peterson
    October 11, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    Moses 1:10 is one of my favorite scriptural verses. But it falls far short of providing a theological rationale for the deliberate use of cavernous architectural spaces to dwarf puny man. It doesn’t deny the genetic relationship of men and Gods, and certainly doesn’t lead to any sense of God as the scholastics’ Unmoved Mover, let alone to God as Wholly Other or to any conception resembling Jonathan Edwards’s “‘Angry God, Sinners in the Hands of an’ (see also ‘Loathsome Insect’).”

  26. Nate Oman
    October 11, 2005 at 1:32 pm

    Dan: I actually like the idea of using something really big to convey the notion of God, since we think that the difference between him and mankind is largely a matter of scale. If seems to me that what you want to avoid is art that is designed to express the metaphysical otherness of God, see e.g. Byzantine mosiacs.

  27. D. Fletcher
    October 11, 2005 at 1:43 pm

    I don’t know about the “big” idea. The Church Office Building… is about as close to the Great and Spacious Building as we ought to get (I think).

  28. Lamonte
    October 11, 2005 at 1:44 pm

    Dave Fletcher – for what it’s worth I have a friend named Dave Fletcher who IS an architect. I always wondered if you were him, now I know.

    I see a great difference between the Conference Center and other magachurches around the country. The conference center was built to accomodate the thousands who used to sit outside on Temple Square in the weather and listen to conference over the Public Address system. As was mentioned in the Slate article, it is used for the purpose of holding General Conference twice a year and it is also used for other events that are not neccesarily religious in nature. The weekly broadcasts of the MTC could just as easily be held in the old tabernacle if it weren’t under structural renovation at the moment.

    The other megachurches (in my biased opinion) are used to pack as many contributing worshipers in as possible on a weekly basis and to feed the ego of the main attraction. Our ward meeting houses, while certainly not ornate – in fact they are quite utilitarian – serve the purpose of housing and sheltering a small, intimate group of worshipers in relatively modest quarters. They are certainly not a blight on the neighborhoods in which they reside but they will never win any design awards. There are some communities (not in Utah) that demand major changes be made to the exteriors before they can be built. And of course, many of the old ward meeting houses that were built in the early 20th century when wards were responsible for their own building funds are quite handsome – but they would never be considered as megachurches.

    A co-worker of mine recently commented tha our temples always sit on a prominent site no matter what city she has been in. I believe this is by design. And while I usually avoid criticizing temple architecture (and there is much to criticize) the most egregious examples of bad temple design are in Ogden and Provo (twins).

    Anyway, enough rambling. It seems that while we may conisdered “mainstream” because we are an organized, established religion, I believe that the conference center is completely different than the megachurches primarily because of the nature of the service.

  29. manaen
    October 11, 2005 at 1:44 pm

    I saw a program recently on how casinos shape their environments to encourage gambling. One of the lessons was that large open spaces deter it, and confined spaces — low ceilings, defined areas — result in more of it. It seemed to me that they were creating the feeling of secret/hidden works in contrast to open spaces of worship that not only remind us of God’s greater-ness but also bring us into the open to reconcile ourselves with him.

    Another lesson was to use fast-paced sounds and lights in slot machines to build excitement and to distract the mind away from contemplating the risks and losses. This seemed opposite of worshipful music that leads to contemplation and renewal.

  30. Sarah
    October 11, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    There doesn’t seem to be a rule about temples being built in prominent places. Certainly the Columbus Ohio temple isn’t — I work about a mile away and like to look at it during my lunch breaks; to get there you drive about two miles off I-70, go past a corporate park of some sort on the left (there’s a public golf course on the right,) round a turn on a two-lane road, and make a left turn (no traffic light) into the corporate/inudustrial neighborhood the temple is in. I don’t doubt that President Hinckley felt inspired to put it there, but it’s nothing like San Diego, Los Angeles, or Washington DC (all of which are, to my mind, classic “prominent spot” temples — all three visible from major freeways, and Los Angeles is on Santa Monica Blvd. on top of that.)

    I grew up in a church with great architecture but not much God. (better views of the architecture here.) Now it seems to be the other way around. I’d really like it if I could have both the architecture and the Spirit at the same time, but if you’ve got to give up one…

  31. Wilfried
    October 11, 2005 at 2:18 pm

    Back to the topic of the post: Are we mainstream? Whether we are or not, it raises subsequent questions: What exactly is mainstream? Do we want to be mainstream? If so, what do we need to do to become more mainstream? Advantages or disadavantages? From my European mission field perspective and all the experiences connected to it, I wonder…

  32. Lamonte
    October 11, 2005 at 2:26 pm

    I started to write that I hoped we wouldn’t do anything to become “mainstream” but rather that we just keep doing the same things that we always do and let the rest of the world worry about being mainstream. But then I stop to realise that the church has changed, or evolved if you will, even in my short lifetime (52 years). My thoughts are that they have been changes for the better (all worthy males receiving the priesthood) but I don’t think they have necessarily been intended to make us more mainstream.

  33. b bell
    October 11, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    To follow up on Wilfried’s comments. How do we define mainstream?

    I am not really sure. We are the 4th (open to another view on this if I am wrong) largest church in the country. Does that make us mainstream?

    Our ranks are filled with succesful politicians, business people etc. Does that make us mainstream?

    I would argue that since David O McKay we have gotten more and more mainstream at least in the US. Where this is leading us I am not sure. I do know that many other churches are having serious membership issues. There is currently only 2 “mainline” protestant denominations ahead of us in terms of membership in the US right now. The Methodists at 8.5MM and the Southern Baptists at 15MM. Catholics number 1 at 65MM and growing due to immigration. The Methodists are on track for a serious schism over SSM/gay priests in the next 10 years so we could pass them soon. Do our numbers make us Mainstream?


  34. N Miller
    October 11, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    I am awe inspired whenever I enter the conference center. It is not overly plain, yet there is a sophisticated mildness that averts ones attention to the center of the building to the pipe organ that points heavenward and the rostrum where the mouthpieces of God speak. We see this simplicity in our church houses and other buildings built by the church. Some, it sounds, wish we could be more like some other mideival monastary. But we aren’t, nor will ever be like them. The doctrine is more pure, and arguably very plain and simple. This translates into the architecture with seeming brilliance of uncomplicated magnificence and natural beauty.

    When we enter the celestial room, again, I am uplifted as I look toward the chandelier with the motion of looking up towards the heavens. Yet, as I sit and ponder in this most wonderful of rooms, my attention is not placed upon the simple beauty, rather on my thoughts and the spirit that resides in the room. If the room were of a goddy nature with an architecture that is intricate in its design I seem to have a harder time to focus on my thoughts and ponder. The architecture of the LDS church in its own way sets it apart from other sects and religions. With that said, the Salt Lake Temple is different and seems to be very ornate compared to most other temples. I spend a lot more time focused on the beauty of the room than my thoughts, yet the spirit still inspires me.

    BTW, the conference center does have skylights, huge skylights, but they cover them during conference or other broadcasts to ensure proper lighting.

  35. WillF
    October 11, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    Maybe we are becoming mainstream because others are becoming like us:

    “THE hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true. ”

    For the rest read here.

  36. October 11, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    I am uplifted as I look toward the chandelier with the motion of looking up towards the heavens.

    How about a beautiful treatment of natural light coming from the actual heavens as that which motions your head upwards? Why the gaudy chandeliers anyway? It’s certainly not the most effective or beautiful way of effusing/communicating light. It’s just another traditional device we cling to.

  37. lyle
    October 11, 2005 at 3:24 pm

    The refraction of light & color created outweighs any chandelier gaudiness.

  38. Keith
    October 11, 2005 at 3:56 pm

    The conference center is a bad thing to point to and say we’re a mega-church. If it were the only building we had meetings in, that might make more sense. But it’s only one aspect of the Church. The primary, most important activity of the Church happens locally.

  39. Rosalynde
    October 11, 2005 at 4:21 pm

    Rusty, you’ve got to visit the San Diego temple for its celestial room’s breathtaking treatment of natural light from two-storey floor-to-ceiling windows. The room’s multi-level, gallery-style space is unique too, I think.

  40. Ben H
    October 11, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    A very nice use of natural light also in the Mount Timpanogos Temple (two-story floor to ceiling windows, with chunks of lusciously clam-shelled and/or hand-blown glass suspended in them, plus flecks of a foil that transmits different colors of light depending on the angle of the sun), and I suspect also its twin in Bountiful (though probably not the same windows in those frames). Light, indeed, especially sunlight, is as appropriate a beautification as could be for a room with the meaning of our celestial rooms–places where we contemplate and prospectively enjoy the glory of the sun! To allow in more sunlight was a major driving force behind traditional church/cathedral architecture. Thanks to modern production techniques for steel and glass, that is now very easy, though perhaps the ease of building windows has also made it easy to make them look too (i.e. boringly) easy. The ones at Timpanogos, however, are exquisite.

    I won’t assume in advance there is nothing to the “hotel lobby” criticism–I think there is a lot of room for us to more fully live up to the potential of the church, architecturally and otherwise. But what exactly would be a better way to arrange our celestial rooms as far as seating and such go? What is the celestial room supposed to be besides a very nice sitting room?

  41. Adam Greenwood
    October 11, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    “Moses 1:10 is one of my favorite scriptural verses. But it falls far short of providing a theological rationale for the deliberate use of cavernous architectural spaces to dwarf puny man.”

    Well, it does, actually. What’s more puny than nothing? What it doesn’t do is justify the God of the philosophers, but I don’t think the feeling of puniness, and therefore Gothic cathedrals, inherently invoke an incomprehensible, impassible God. I’m with Nate O. on this (except in his critique of Byzantine Mosaics. Christ the Autokrator is a sublime concept that is sublimely represented.)

  42. Ben H
    October 11, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    I think there is a lot to b bell’s (#5) point! But I don’t think it’s the whole answer to the question, “Are we mainstream?” I think it totally depends on who you ask, but yeah, pretty much between the Osmonds, Harry Reid, the 2002 Olympics, a litte Larry King Live, and lots of just plain solid Mormon citizens mixed through the American loaf, I think in a whole lot of people’s eyes we are mainstream. Not the eyes of a majority perhaps, but a sizable plurality (while plenty of others still think we have horns or use us as stock examples of irrationality). The very shrillness of many proclaiming we are *not* mainstream is perhaps a testimony to how mainstream we are. Funny how widely people’s (expressed?) views of us vary!

  43. D. Fletcher
    October 11, 2005 at 5:08 pm

    HeHe, Ben H, I thought your links would be of photographs of various Celestial Rooms. I’m actually very impressed with you, now!

  44. Ben H
    October 11, 2005 at 5:12 pm

    Now that we bring it up, I’m kind of excited to see what theology is implicit in the standard “sitting room” design of celestial rooms, even though that theology is subject to controversy even in the church. It is a very strong reading of the scriptural teaching that when we see him we shall be like him.

  45. Ben H
    October 11, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    Er, thanks D, I think? : )

  46. D. Fletcher
    October 11, 2005 at 5:24 pm

    But Ben, my biggest complaint about the Celestial Room is that they hurry everybody outta there, to make room for the next group! It’s really not a sitting room at all, but a hall.

    It might be nice to have a Celestial Room *just* for contemplation. One night after work, instead of doing a session, you simply put on your temple clothes and go and sit in the Celestial Room, read the scriptures. Contemplation… is something almost completely missing in our Church.

  47. Wilfried
    October 11, 2005 at 5:28 pm

    Ben H: “The very shrillness of many proclaiming we are *not* mainstream is perhaps a testimony to how mainstream we are. Funny how widely people’s (expressed?) views of us vary! ”

    I certainly agree. Also, the intensity of the “cult-hunt” in some countries, which also goes against Mormons, is often a (subconscious) desire to defend their own new “a-religious”mainstream” against traditions which dare-to-still-believe. Then it is convenient to place “disturbing” believers outside the mainstream.

    Viewed from another angle, however, our desire to be “mainstream” is probably much more a desire to be accepted by the world, to be congratulated for our accomplishments, etc. That may entail some risks of loss of identity.

  48. Daniel Peterson
    October 11, 2005 at 5:28 pm

    Responding to AG (#41):

    Yes, Moses 1:10 says that man is nothing. But it would be just as unwise to base an entire theology (or anthropology, or ecclesiastical architecture) on that proposition as it would be, to make up an entirely hypothetical example, to base a doctrine of original sin or human depravity wholly or in part on Psalm 51:5. Both are emotional outbursts following particular experiences, and both should be read in the context of such passages as Psalm 8:5, Psalm 82:6, and John 10:34-35.

    If temple celestial rooms ought to be constructed to emphasize human nothingness before God in the spirit of Gothic architecture, then we have been architecturally wrong — and, I would say, theologically wrong — for the better part of two centuries. I’m disinclined to concede that, to put it mildly.

    Incidentally, I yield to nobody in my appreciation for Byzantine mosaics. I’m particularly fond of the Chora church in Istanbul.

  49. Ben H
    October 11, 2005 at 5:34 pm

    D, I have never been hurried out of a celestial room. I have only been in about twelve temples or so, but that’s a decent sample, and I am usually the last one from my session to leave. I often stay until a couple of sessions after mine have come and gone. I would like to know where this is going on, exactly. I suspect it is quite atypical. But I will mention that on this point, too, the Timpanogos temple is exemplary: entry and exit doors at the same end (though different walls) of an oblong room (larger than usual for celestial rooms) allow most of the room to be “out of traffic”, really a place where time slows down. I once sat and talked (softly) about spiritual topics with some close friends for probably 90 minutes in there.

  50. Steve Evans
    October 11, 2005 at 5:35 pm

    Daniel, Moses 1:10 is hardly a scriptural anomaly; each of the standard works contain similar phraseolgy. I am not sure that they are simply emotional outbursts — see for example King Benjamin’s discourse.

    That said, I don’t think that our temples or meetinghouses do a bad job of emphasizing our nothingness; in the best case they show our desire to glorify God, and in the worst case they show how terrible our architectural sensibilities are. In either case we’re pushing the Kingdom forward…

  51. Adam Greenwood
    October 11, 2005 at 5:35 pm

    “If temple celestial rooms ought to be constructed to emphasize human nothingness before God in the spirit of Gothic architecture”

    No one is arguing that temple celestial rooms should be made to emphasize human nothingness. We mortals ARE nothing, but in the celestial room we have ceased to be mortals.

  52. Nate Oman
    October 11, 2005 at 5:35 pm

    FWIW, when I was an ordinance worker in the DC temple we were explicitly instructed never to hurry anyone out of the celestial room.

  53. D. Fletcher
    October 11, 2005 at 5:38 pm

    Happy to know this about your experiences brethren. It wasn’t my experience, but perhaps things have changed…

  54. October 11, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    I’d second all the comments about Cardston. What a great temple. I like the Timpanogus and Washington D.C. temples, but Cardston is impressive. I didn’t know about the Wright influence. I didn’t realize Wright was that big back then yet. The interiors of the Cardston temple are the high point. Lots and lots of woods and impressionistic murals. Whereas the interiors of the SLC temple are kind of disappointing in a way (and don’t get me started on the St. George interiors) the Cardston temple really is awe inspiring. I was worried when they switched from play to video that it would lose something. But fortunately unlike what was the trend at the time, they kept the movement.

    Of temples in the last 10 years or so, I think the Timpanogus temple is my favorite. Very much improved after a bit of a nadir there for a while (outside of the DC one).

  55. manaen
    October 11, 2005 at 5:58 pm

    31, et al
    So… all along the Church’s message has been that it is Christ’s own restoration of the main stream and that all others are offshoots from the original one — and now that some gentile refers to us as mainstream, we wonder whether it could be true and whether to take offense.

  56. Rosalynde
    October 11, 2005 at 6:13 pm

    D. wrote: “One night after work, instead of doing a session, you simply put on your temple clothes and go and sit in the Celestial Room, read the scriptures. ”

    Isn’t there a space in the Manhattan temple for precisely this? When I was there, a sister I met during the session took me to a sort of gallery outside (and above) the celestial room, where you could sit and contemplate or converse in slightly louder tones than in the celestial room itself. There’s a place like this in the San Diego temple, too, a lovely atrium outside the celestial room for conversing and contemplating. I believe you can get there without doing a session.

  57. Ben H
    October 11, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    Wilfried, you are right that we are supposed to be a peculiar people. We are also, though, supposed to be a light unto the world, unfurling a standard to which (some at least out of) the nations will flock. The trick is to do both at once, I would think.

    I was at a conference at Notre Dame recently, a conference on “The Catholic University in the New Millenium” where one of the invited speakers (Tristram Engelhardt of Rice University), in a comment in another session, referred to BYU as in part an example of how a religious university ought to be. As I recall, he said, “At BYU they have no problem proclaiming falsely that they represent the truth!” I took it his point was that those who do represent the truth should be no less bold. Of course, I would disagree with the “falsely” part, but I still took it as a compliment. The speaker he was responding to afterward said some very kind things about Mormons’ writings on the family, particularly Bruce Hafen’s. As long as our name is had for ill as well, I think it is good for our name to be had for good!

  58. D. Fletcher
    October 11, 2005 at 6:46 pm


    You wrote, “Isn’t there a space in the Manhattan temple for precisely this? When I was there, a sister I met during the session took me to a sort of gallery outside (and above) the celestial room, where you could sit and contemplate or converse in slightly louder tones than in the celestial room itself. There’s a place like this in the San Diego temple, too, a lovely atrium outside the celestial room for conversing and contemplating. I believe you can get there without doing a session.”

    I haven’t seen it since before the dedication, but I think you must be referring to the hall. It’s a very wide hall, with prints of famous LDS painters on the walls. There are some chairs there, but no windows, of course. There’s one on the fifth floor and another one on the sixth.

  59. Josh Kim
    October 11, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    I think that “mainstream” is a label that LDS people need not concern themselves with.

    Not to step on anyone’s toes here but it’s irrelevant, I think. Jesus was very controversial with the mainstream religious leaders in his day. His followers were considered by the Romans to be a Jewish cult.

    If I’ve misunderstood most of you, forgive me. I’m just merely stating a point

  60. queuno
    October 11, 2005 at 10:17 pm

    Re #30 (about temples NOT being in prominent areas).

    Anyone been to the Dallas temple? If you aren’t paying attention, as you drive past million-dollar house after million-dollar house, you’ll miss it. It disappears into the surroundings.

  61. October 11, 2005 at 11:02 pm

    The megachurches in the article remind me a little of the LDS tabernacle I attended when I was young. Beautiful stain glass windows, dark wood benches and tall ceilings. The other wards I’ve attended seem boring in comparison (yes, I realize that isn’t important in the grand scheme of things).

    Kaysville Tabernacle.

  62. Daniel Peterson
    October 12, 2005 at 12:29 am

    “Daniel, Moses 1:10 is hardly a scriptural anomaly; each of the standard works contain similar phraseolgy. I am not sure that they are simply emotional outbursts – see for example King Benjamin’s discourse.”

    I don’t believe that I said — and I certainly don’t think — that they’re anomalous. Nor did I say that all such passages represent emotional outbursts; I was commenting very specifically about Moses 1:10 and Psalm 51:5. But I also don’t believe that such verses exhaust what is to be said about “gospel anthropology.” There are too many passages (and doctrines) to the contrary. The fact is that both ideas are true: We are fallen, carnal, and in exile (to a greater or lesser degree, spiritually dead), and we are the children of God whose rightful destiny it is to be like our Father. We should be humble, and we should always remember our divine heritage and that the Son of God himself came to earth and died for us. The tension between these ideas is extremely important, and highly instructive. It is by proving contraries, said the Prophet Joseph, that the truth is made manifest.

  63. Daniel Peterson
    October 12, 2005 at 12:38 am

    “No one is arguing that temple celestial rooms should be made to emphasize human nothingness. We mortals ARE nothing, but in the celestial room we have ceased to be mortals.”

    I think my point is being missed. The complaint that LDS celestial rooms resemble elegant hotel lobbies often seems to reflect, merely, the fact that they are constructed to human scale and for human comfort, rather than to express divine grandeur (and a gap between humanity and deity) by means of inhuman size and the reduction of humanity. In that respect, I suppose, some rough similarity to an elegant hotel lobby (similarly constructed for human comfort and on a human scale) is probably inevitable. But I am happy with the fact that the celestial rooms seem to be humane. I think this is theologically appropriate, as I expect the celestial kingdom itself to be human-friendly. Just as architectural critics (generally amateurs) have complained about our celestial rooms, some writers on the Latter-day Saint conception of heaven have found it too human- and family-centered. They are free to dislike our ideas. But we don’t have to abandon those notions merely because they disagree with what someone else happens to think a more elevated religious vision. Similarly, I feel no need to apologize to an outsider because our temple architecture doesn’t reflect his or her notion of what our temple architecture ought to be.

  64. October 12, 2005 at 1:06 am

    Daniel (no. 62), I can agree with what you’re saying — you’re beginning to sound a lot like Pascal.

  65. Seth Rogers
    October 12, 2005 at 2:04 am

    I think the greatest danger facing our religion in the USA is that it will become “American” at the expense of being “Mormon.”

    When Mormons are indistinguishable from any other mainstream American, there will be little point being a Mormon any longer.

    Our beliefs and theology are a direct and dangerous challenge to the traditional christian establishment. Recent well-meant (and appropriate) olive branches by Pres. Hinckley and Stephen Robinson don’t change that.

    This religion aims to ultimately either subjugate or destroy every other belief system on the planet. Them’s fightin words!

    No, I do not think this religion is “mainstream” or ever will be.

  66. October 12, 2005 at 2:27 am

    It seems to me that the core aspects of the temple emphasize symbols rather than vast architecture “tones.” That goes back to the period of the SLC Temple and its symbolism. But also the Masonic connection. Regardless of what you think about the Masonic/Temple connection, I think we can agree that the Masonic mindset was behind a lot of what set the groundwork for Mormon Temples. As time has gone on, we’ve lost a lot of that mindset and things have become simpler. But I don’t think we want Gothic architecture if only because the fundamental doctrinal point: the unbridgeble gap between God and man is something we reject on numerous levels.

    It seems to me that the common critique of Mormon symbolism ends up reflecting that fundamental divide over how we view God. I think we emphasize the immanent nature. The Celestial rooms thus reflect that. They are the kind of place we’d feel comfortable as a human.

  67. Mark Butler
    October 13, 2005 at 1:02 am

    Seth (82), I think words like “subjugate” and “destroy” are unnecessarily inflammatory. Article of Faith 11 and D&C 134 run contrary to both scenarios, even in a theocratic government, which seems less likely than continued separation of church and state in the millennium. I doubt any other church will close its doors unless the vast majority of its adherents voluntarily convert, which might take a long time.

  68. Mark Butler
    October 13, 2005 at 1:02 am

    Sorry 65 not 82.

  69. Seth Rogers
    October 13, 2005 at 11:38 am

    Mark, I actually share your view of the “Millenium.” But the fact that it is going to take a long time doesn’t change the end result.

    This religion aims to triumph in the end. This is merely the logical conclusion of saying that your church is God’s only Church. We claim the authority, we claim the doctrine.

    Of course, those words are inflamatory. I have no intention of using them in typical conversation with those not of our faith. Nor do I consider it prudent for church leaders to adopt such rhetoric. But the words do point out why many “mainstream” purveyors of religion consider us dangerous. This religion presents the first new and widespread revolutionary theological paradigm to come along since Mohammed walked out of the desert. Our beliefs change everything.

    Those beliefs which are “praiseworthy or of good report” will be embraced and made a part of our faith. Those beliefs which are not will eventually be defeated and those who follow them cast out. Whether it happens before or after the Millenium doesn’t matter. Our Church is playing for keeps.

  70. Adam Greenwood
    October 13, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    62 – 63, Daniel Peterson,

    I and Russell Fox, the two you’ve been arguing with, have never said anything about making the celestial room specifically an attempt to emphasize God’s grandeur and man’s mereness. Our only point has been, like you acknowledge in your #62, that the gulf between God’s grandeur and man’s mereness is a strand of what we Mormons believe in (though, unlike traditional Christians, we balance it out with other beliefs) and therefore that there ought to be some church architecture that reflects this strand. I agree, however, that the celestial room would not be the place for it. If that was your only point, then we are agreed.

  71. Neil
    October 14, 2005 at 11:25 pm

    lots of errors here about “mainline” and “evangelical” churches. for one, the southern baptist convention is not mainline, although the methodist church is. the southern baptist convention falls under the evangelical umbrella; the methodist church does not, however, individual methodist churches within the methodist denomination could perhaps be evangelical themselves.

    the slate article is the one who used the “mainstream” terminology. i’m not sure any of the churches included would choose that notation for themselves.

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