Sunday, April 22, 2012

Female Episcopal Priest Danielle Tumminio Tours Kansas City LDS Temple, Says She Felt Close To God

On May 6th, 2012, the Kansas City Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will become the 137th operational temple when it is formally dedicated. After that time, access will be available only to members of the LDS Church who possess a temple recommend. An unofficial list of stakes to be transferred to the Kansas City Temple District is available HERE.

But until the day of dedication, the general public are taking tours of the facility during the open house, which will continue until April 28th. Among those taking a tour is a female Episcopal priest, Danielle Tumminio. Tumminio has a rather imposing resume; she's also a certified life coach and spinning instructor, and the author of "God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom". Tumminio has also authored various editorials and feature articles on religious issues, many of which focus on the intersection between Christianity and popular culture.

But Danielle Tumminio has a natural curiosity about other belief systems, and she learned of the opportunity to tour a religious facility not normally open to her. So she took advantage of the opportunity to tour the Kansas City Temple, and recorded her impressions, as well as seven photos, in a Huffington Post article.

Tumminio notes that no one tried to proselyte her during her temple tour. She found everyone quite welcoming, and that the guides were willing and able to answer any question she asked, no matter how challenging or controversial. But what's particularly noteworthy is her reaction when she made her way up to the Celestial Room. Here's the key excerpt:

You see, as part of our final stop on the tour, our guide took us to a room with a mural of the Missouri countryside painted by a local artist. The room had earthy colors, browns and greens and rows of cushioned seats. This was the first instruction room. From there, we took a step up -- as if ascending closer to heaven -- and entered a second room, similar to the first in shape and size but all white. This was the second instruction room. When we left that room, we took another step up and entered the Celestial Room, a space designed to give those who sit in it a foretaste of heaven.

It was a simple room yet ornate at the same time, all white with sparkling crystal chandeliers, large mirrors, and plump sofas and chairs reminiscent of those that must have existed in Joseph Smith's day. Our guide asked us to be silent and said we were welcome to sit wherever we liked and take a moment to pray. So I sat down on a sofa that seemed to envelop me, folded my hands on my lap and closed my eyes.

Like Dante, who saw God face to face but had no words to describe the encounter, I have few words to describe what I felt in that moment. But I can say this: While it did not convert me, nor did it make me want to be a Mormon, the silence and peace I felt reminded me of the many other times I've felt close to God, whether in an Episcopal cathedral, in a clear, warm ocean or in my ratty old car. And because of that, I came to understand why temples exist and why they are so important to Mormons across the world.

Note that although Danielle Tumminio belongs to a different denomination, she felt close to God nonetheless. This is why, although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is "the" true church, it is not the only church with truth. Just as the stars in the heavens vary in magnitude, the religious traditions of earth vary in truth.

Also note that Danielle Tumminio felt no call to join the LDS Church as a result of her visit. This is important because we preach that those who knowingly reject the fulness of the Gospel will not earn celestial glory with exaltation in the next world. But what does "knowingly reject" really mean? If Tumminio felt no call from the Holy Spirit to join the LDS Church, how could a just and merciful God penalize her for "knowingly rejecting" the fulness of the Gospel? Perhaps the reason she felt no call to join the LDS Church is because she might be exactly where the Lord wants and needs her at this time. Do you really believe that John Paul II will be denied celestial glory simply because he was the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church instead of the President of the LDS Church? It behooves us to be less judgmental towards others on this issue; instead of spending an inordinate amount of time perfecting others, at times against their will, we should first perfect ourselves and our loved ones. We can trust in our Heavenly Father to judge a righteous judgment upon all of us; we will be denied nothing that we didn't get through no malicious fault of our own.

As an afterthought, I find it interesting that Danielle Tumminio diplomatically refrained from discussing the irony of a female Episcopal priest touring a temple owned by a church that not only doesn't ordain women to preside over stakes, wards, branches, and quorums, but doesn't even confer Priesthood upon women. I appreciate her restraint. Priesthood won't be extended to women in the LDS Church except by revelation.

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