Americans, watching mainstream media proclaim that religious affiliation is at a low point or revel in the transgressions of priests, rabbis and ministers, might believe that most people have abandoned organized religion. But over 78% of Americans still identify themselves as Christians. Long lines of Phoenicians to tour the new Gilbert Arizona Temple this week indicate that people are still very interested in religion
The first Mormons did not arrive in Arizona until the 1860’s, and the first temple in Gilbert was built in 1919. In 2008, plans were announced to build a fourth temple in Arizona, in Gilbert. The Church of Latter Day Saints involves only 1.7% of US adults, but is the fastest growing religion. Americans’ perceptions of Mormons are conflicting, varying from the clean, family-man image of Mitt Romney to the crazy polygamist Warren Jeffs. The secrecy surrounding Mormon religious rites raises both curiosity and suspicion about the Church.
The Church has sought to be more open and better understood in the past few years, even running television commercials during Romney’s campaign. Before the Gilbert Temple opens in March (and is closed to non-Mormons), tours are being offered to educate the public until February 15. The response has been beyond anyone’s expectations. Daily reservations were repeatedly sold out. By last Thursday, over 300,000 had toured the Temple.
The sacred structure is awe-inspiring. "Sisters" helped visitors put on booties before entering. The tours are “silent,” adding to the serenity, with information being provided via a pre-tour video and a pamphlet. Spectacular crystal chandeliers, a marble staircase, Jesus-themed oil paintings, the spacious Celestial Room, and desert-themed agave patterns in stained glass, upholstery, carpeting, pottery and skylights, adorn the 85,000 square-foot “House of the Lord.” What elicited the most "ahs" was the baptismal font, a huge tub of crystal-clear, aquamarine water resting on the backs of twelve huge, oxen sculptures.
Dale and Shanelle Gambell, who are members of the Mesa Arizona Temple, did not mind the long lines. Only one of their four daughters—Savannah—is old enough to be recommended and allowed to enter the Temple in March. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to let our other three daughters Elisa, Sophia and Camille experience this beautiful Temple,” said Gambell.
The design of new Gilbert Mormon Temple is a testament to families and marriages, like the Gambells. Its construction is a testament to the vision, continuing faith, and interest in religion.