Mormonism: A Peek Inside Temple, Rituals and Family Life

Leaders and members explain more about their mysterious faith.

ByABC News
August 23, 2012, 6:31 AM

Aug. 23, 2012 — -- Even as Mitt Romney, America's best-known Mormon, gets ready to take center stage at the Republican National Convention next week, the faith remains a mystery to many.

Romney has rarely mentioned the word "Mormon" during this campaign, so ABC News sought to address the misconceptions in a two-part series.

Part 1 can be found here. Below is the conclusion.

Very few get to go inside the giant, gleaming Mormon temples.

The Celestial Room, one of the holiest rooms in a Mormon temple, is meant to evoke the peace and tranquility of heaven.

Many of the other rooms are equally opulent. Inside the temple, Mormons wear all-white uniforms. And not all Mormons can enter. To have "temple privileges," Mormons must be deemed chaste and must contribute 10 percent of their income to the church.

In one room, in which there is a heated, chlorinated pool, Mormons are baptized in the name of the dead so that they can have the option of converting to Mormonism in the afterlife. On one side of the pool, oxen represent the 12 tribes of Israel.

Elders Quentin Cook and Russell Ballard are two of the church's 12 apostles, top officials who are believed to be prophets, seers and revelators.

"We know the voice of God," Ballard said. "We know what he wants us to do."

They discussed their rituals with ABC News -- to a point -- but they would not address rumors regarding things like secret handshakes.

"We don't get into the details of that," Ballard said.

"You're going through a process that, which taken out of context, can seem unusual or different, but if, in the whole context, doesn't seem that way at all," Cook said.

When it comes to polygamy -- an aspect of the faith that has sometimes drawn public focus -- Mormons remind outsiders that the practice was outlawed more than a century ago. And Mormons say both men and women wear special undergarments daily as a tangible representation of their faith, much as some Jews wear yarmulkes.

Mormons say the real center of their faith, though, is family.

In the Sealing Room, Mormons don't just get married; they are sealed for eternity. To be at the highest level of heaven, a Mormon must be married.

"The Mormon heaven is a fantastically kind of family affair," said Brigham Young University assistant professor J. Spencer Fluhman, a practicing Mormon and author of the upcoming book "A Peculiar People."

"It's a family-oriented vision of the afterlife," he said. "And so the significance of that view of heaven dictates a family-centeredness here in what Mormons would call mortal life."

That is likely why two-thirds of Mormons are married, compared to half of the rest of the U.S. population. Mormon women are also twice as likely to describe themselves as "housewives."

And once a week, Mormon families like Matt and Emilie Ahern, who live in Pennsylvania with their three children, are expected to hold family home evenings. There are no phones, no computers, no television -- just food, prayers, songs, games and lessons.

"The most important part is just having our children know that we love them and we love spending time with them, and we are a family that is staying together," said Emilie Ahern.

Fluhman said it's all proof of how the Mormon faith is both very different and very demanding.

"Mormonism tends to define life in various ways for a practicing Latter Day Saint," he said. "Tends not to be elements of one's life but an all-encompassing life choice. It's not a faith that's worn lightly."