Let’s start by saying that what happens in Mormon temples stays in Mormon temples.
Wait, there’s a temple “movie”?
FULL-DISCLOSURE: I am an Ex-Mormon atheist who is critical of religion in general. I write about my journey out of Mormonism in my book The Korihor Argument.
The freemasonry-inspired melodrama that is played out as a “movie” in Mormon temples is considered by initiates into the “Endowment” to be too sacred to be discussed outside the temple or with non-initiates, including Mormon youth and new converts. Mormons believe that the Endowment rite (the most common performed in LDS temples) was revealed by God to the first Mormon prophet Joseph Smith in Illinois in 1844 and many modern Mormons believe that it remains unchanged since. In fact, it was taught by Mormon prophets that this ceremony was in practice dating back to Old Testament times, revealed only in the appropriate time to God’s prophets like Adam and Moses.
Let us go down.
The truth is that the ceremony has been fundamentally altered several times over the course of 150 years with deletions and rephrasing of the dialogue of the “play” being very common. Of course, before the inclusion of 16mm projectors and screens in the Mormon temples, the melodrama was performed by live “actors” who each assumed characters in the story, principally: Elohim (God), Jehovah (Jesus), Michael (Adam), Eve, Lucifer (Satan), and the apostles St. Peter, St. James, and St. John.
But the original dramatis personæ included one more character: the “Preacher” or “Sectarian Minister”. We’ll get to him in a moment.
The story opens with a heavily Mormonized version of the Creation story and the Fall of Adam and Eve followed by their expulsion into “the lone and dreary world”. All-in-all, this is not entirely unfamiliar to anyone acquainted with the parallel story from the Bible, with the exception of important details like the advent of two Gods, instead of one (Elohim, “the Father”, and Jehovah) or Lucifer and Jehovah each confirming that there have been other worlds created by Elohim in the same way that the Earth was formed and that they also had “Garden of Eden” stories of their own, where the first man and woman for those planets were enticed into sin.
Most controversial: God orders that Adam be taught “the first token of the Aaronic Priesthood” – a masonic “grip” as a sign to Adam of God’s ordained messengers. In times past, this “token” and its associated “name” (password) and “sign” (gesture) were accompanied by a “penalty” for breaking one’s oath to never reveal any of these. In this “penalty”, the initiate would mime his or her own death by drawing one’s thumb across the throat with the right hand from ear to ear.
You want religion, do you?
In keeping with Joseph Smith’s other works, the melodrama claims that Satan is set up (falsely) as the God of the lone and dreary world “that we now live in” and that religions apart from Mormonism mistakenly worship the Devil, calling him God but being deceived by his lies.
In the first scene with Fallen Man in the world, Adam and Eve pray at an altar. The words that Adam speaks have been changed in the most recent alterations to the ceremony (circa 1990) to be “O, God: Hear the words of my mouth.” While Adam is in the act of calling upon God, Lucifer appears, dressed in fancy robes that represent “my power and priesthoods”. He interrupts Adam’s prayers (apparently disguised by his robes or in some magic way so that Adam and Eve do not recognize him as the being that enticed them to disobey Elohim, originally) and the following dialogue ensues:
LUCIFER: I hear you. What is it you want?
ADAM: Who are you?
LUCIFER: I am the god of this world.
ADAM: You, the god of this world?
LUCIFER: Yes. What do you want?
ADAM: I am looking for messengers.
LUCIFER: Oh, you want someone to preach to you. You want religion, do you?
At this point, in the modern rendition, “Lucifer” warns Adam that there are many who will teach him “the philosophies of men mingled with Scripture” and Adam responds that he is only accepting “messengers from Father”. But in the older version of the Endowment ceremony, Lucifer strikes off on an entirely different path.
A man cannot preach unless he has been trained for the ministry.
Lucifer now conjures a “sectarian preacher” to work for him in converting Adam and Eve. This character has been removed since the 1990 revision of the ceremony. Presumably this was to shorten the ceremony and make going to an endowment “session” easier to do within a couple of hours. But a close examination will reveal to common sense that there are entirely different motives to hiding “the Preacher” from modern audiences. I discuss this more thoroughly in my book, The Korihor Argument; A Missionary’s Journey out of Mormonism.
The only versions of the temple films that included the “Preacher” (also called “sectarian minister”) are out-of-date and so we will use Petyr Baelish from Game of Thrones to stand in for him.
LUCIFER: I will have preachers here presently.
[A preacher enters.]
LUCIFER: Good morning, sir!
PREACHER: Good morning! [Looking out over the initiates.] A fine congregation!
LUCIFER: Yes, they are a very good people. They are concerned about religion. Are you a preacher?
PREACHER: I am.
LUCIFER: Have you been to college and received training for the ministry?
PREACHER: Certainly! A man cannot preach unless he has been trained for the ministry.
LUCIFER: Do you preach the orthodox religion?
PREACHER: Yes, that is what I preach.
LUCIFER: If you will preach your orthodox religion to these people and convert them, I will pay you well.
PREACHER: I will do my best.
Do you believe in a God?
Rev. Baelish is already a damning metaphor for the world’s religions in that his being tempted by the Devil is preempted by his being educated at Seminary and his being paid for ministry, both of which the central Mormon clergy are today also tempted by. I don’t have time to get into my discoveries of the corruptible nature of the modern LDS Church but I go into it in more detail in my book.
What follows, then, is Smith and his successors’ critique of modern theology as a whole.
LUCIFER: [Indicating Adam.] Here is a man who desires religion. He is very much exercised and seems to be sincere.
PREACHER: I understand that you are inquiring after religion.
ADAM: I was calling upon Father.
PREACHER: I am glad to know that you were calling upon Father.
Do you believe in a God who is without body, parts, or passions; who sits on the top of a topless throne; whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere; who fills the universe, and yet is so small that he can dwell in your heart; who is surrounded by myriads of beings who have been saved by grace, not for any act of theirs, but by his good pleasure? Do you believe in such a great being?
ADAM: I do not. I cannot comprehend such a being.
PREACHER: That is the beauty of it. Perhaps you do not believe in a devil, and in that great hell, the bottomless pit, where there is a lake of fire and brimstone into which the wicked are cast, and where they are continually burning but are never consumed?
ADAM: I do not believe in any such place.
PREACHER: My dear friend, I am sorry for you.
LUCIFER: I am sorry, very very sorry! What is it you want?
ADAM: I am looking for messengers from my Father.
The philosophies of men mingled with Scripture.
So we see Smith’s claim again claimed that God told him not to join any existing religion because “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”(JS-H 1:19)
In The Korihor Argument, I discuss the theology of Mormonism and of Christendom and Islam and how these factored into Smith’s ideology. Particularly, it is interesting that Smith’s magnum opus, The Book of Mormon, argued for Anselm/Descartes’ Ontological Argument and for Paley’s “Watchmaker” and Aristotle’s “Prime Mover” and al-Ghazali’s “First Cause” while he condemns the same “philosophies of men” here.
Later in the melodrama, Saints Peter, James and John receive instructions from the Gods (Elohim and Jehovah) to descend to Earth to “give further light and knowledge” to Adam and Eve:
[Peter, James, and John enter the World Room.]
PETER: Good morning.
LUCIFER: Good morning, gentlemen.
PETER: What are you doing here?
LUCIFER: Teaching religion.
PETER: What religion do you teach?
LUCIFER: We teach a religion made of the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.
PETER: How is your religion received by this community?
LUCIFER: Very well–excepting this man. He does not seem to believe anything we preach.
You can buy anything in this world with money.
Now we get back to this fixation of Smith’s with the salaries that sectarian clergy receive. In Smith’s day, this reviling of paid clergy was a staple of Mormonism, even though it was not uncommon knowledge that Smith, himself, made money from Church-related or Church-financed ventures. Parts of this scene are included in the modern version but the parts about the Preacher and his teachings have been removed.
PETER: [To Adam.] Good morning. What do you think of the preaching of these gentlemen?
ADAM: I cannot comprehend it.
PETER: Can you give us some idea concerning it?
ADAM: They preach of a God who is without body, parts, or passions; who is so large that he fills the universe, and yet is so small that he can dwell in your heart; and of a hell, without a bottom, where the wicked are continually burned but are never consumed. To me, it is a mass of confusion.
PETER: We do not wonder that you cannot comprehend such doctrine. Have you any tokens or signs?
LUCIFER: [Interjecting.] Do you have any money?
PETER: We have sufficient for our needs.
LUCIFER: You can buy anything in this world with money.
PETER: [To Adam.] Do you sell your tokens or signs for money? You have them, I presume.
ADAM: I have them, but I do not sell them for money. I hold them sacred. I am looking for the further light and knowledge Father promised to send me.
PETER: That is right. We commend you for your integrity. Good day. We shall probably visit you again.
The apostles now gone, Lucifer relishes in the glory of his power as a self-styled God of the lone and dreary world. This is included in the modern “movie”:
LUCIFER: Now is the great day of my power. I reign from the rivers to the ends of the earth. There is none who dares to molest or make afraid.
But the reaction of Satan’s protege has again been removed:
PREACHER: Shall we ever have any apostles or prophets?
LUCIFER: No. However, there may be some who will profess revelation or apostleship. If so, just test them by asking that they perform a great miracle, such as cutting off an arm or some other member of the body and restoring it, so that the people may know that they have come with power.
He is quite a different person from what he told me the devil is.
On the second visit of the apostles, Satan is cast out and the Preacher is cleansed of Satan’s deception by the preaching of Peter and the Sons of Zebedee. In this we see Smith’s interpretation of how the Devil is not as scary as he has been given to be but merely a great deceiver with power to distort the mind.
But, to the Preacher’s credit, he sees that he has been deceived, as you will observe, here.
Peter, James and John return and report to the Gods, who instruct them to return again and teach Adam the tokens, names, signs and penalties of the Melchizedek Priesthood. They return to the lone and dreary world.
[Peter, James, and John return to the World Room.]
PETER: I am Peter.
JAMES: I am James.
JOHN: I am John.
LUCIFER: Yes, I thought I knew you. [To the preacher.] Do you know who these men are? They claim to be apostles. Try them!
PREACHER: [To Peter.] Do you profess to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ?
PETER: We do.
PREACHER: This man told me that we should never have any revelation or apostles, but if any should come professing to be apostles, I was to ask them to cut off an arm or some other member of the body and then restore it, so that the people might know that they came with power.
PETER: We do not satisfy men’s curiosity in that manner. It is a wicked and an adulterous generation that seeks for a sign. Do you know who that man is? He is Satan.
PREACHER: What? The devil?
PETER: That is one of his names.
PREACHER: He is quite a different person from what he told me the devil is. He said the devil has claws like a bear’s on his hands, horns on his head, and a cloven foot, and that when he speaks he has the roar of a lion.
PETER: He has said this to deceive you, and I would advise you to get out of his employ.
PREACHER: Your advice is good. But if I leave his employ, what will become of me?
PETER: We will preach the gospel unto you, with the rest of Adam’s posterity.
PREACHER: That is good. [To Lucifer.] I would like to have a settlement. I want you to pay me for preaching.
LUCIFER: I am ready to keep my word and fulfill my part of the agreement. I promised to pay you if you would convert these people, and they have nearly converted you! You can get out of my kingdom–I want no such men in it!
[The preacher exits.]
Who is this Preacher?
The Preacher is converted to the Gospel in the story, much in the same way that the character Nehor from The Book of Mormon sees the light. At first, the Preacher seems to represent the deceived Satan-worshipping religions of the world but at the end, he seems to also be convinced of the virtue of the Priesthood-bearing Apostles. Never mind the disastrous timeline problems with how Peter, James and John are able to physically interact with Adam if they have not been born, yet, etc.
The Preacher ultimately did not do anything uncommon to the modern LDS apostleship with the exception of his teaching a hell that is an eternal torment and a God without parts or passions. In the end, he had to be removed because he represented how far the Church had drifted from the idealism of its origins.
Update: It was brought to my attention that there was at least one version of the filmed melodrama that featured Spencer Palmer, a BYU professor, in the role of the Preacher and so I have revised the text accordingly.
Update: One reader did write to complain to me that these events are in the past. I am grateful for observant readers and apologize for any offense given by the existence of the sequence of chronological events.