The temple in France – Some thoughts

February 10, 2012 | 68 comments
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There is some ongoing turmoil about the planned temple near Paris. At the present (pretty secure) stage of development, it seems much ado about nothing, but it makes headlines.

The location is the small city of Le Chesnay, near Versailles. On the lot of 2.24 acres stands an old building, waiting for demolition. The building permit for the temple was delivered last October, after a thorough investigation. The city mayor, Dr. Philippe Brillault, had no reason and no legal ground to deny the application. His majority in the city council agreed and approved the project.

But, such a dossier is fair political game: a hard kernel within the opposition decided to make it their battering-ram.

In the ongoing procedure, people could still contest the approval by December 27th 2011. Four formal objections were lodged against the building permit. The municipality rejected all four this week. Opponents can now appeal to an administrative court. As long as appeals are possible, the Church has decided to leave the lot untouched. But matters look favorable for the Church, which also set up a website about the temple.

Which main arguments are being used against the plan?

One is simply procedural. Has the mayor showed enough openness and provided enough information during the whole procedure? The mayor says yes, the opposition no. Standard bickering with broad margins for interpretation.

Another argument is socio-economic. Chesnay needs no Mormon temple! Why not, for example, have the city purchase the lot, through expropriation, and build “social housing,” apartments rented at moderate prices, which the city badly needs? “Instead of building a national temple for a population that baptizes the dead, should we not first give proper equipment, work and lodgings to the living?” asks the anti-Mormon-temple website Avenir46—the name referring to the future of the location at number 46 boulevard Saint-Antoine. The answer of the mayor is as socio-economic: the purchase price of 20 million euros (26 million dollars), just for the lot, would have put an enormous strain on a town with a total year budget of 11,5 million euros. It would have prevented the planned building of a new school, the renovation of equipment, and all public works for at least three years. And no money left to demolish the old building (expensive because of asbestos clearing) and to construct social housing. Not one city council member, the mayor clarified in a well-argued editorial to the citizens, would vote in favor of such financial suicide.

Other arguments—and these make national and even international headlines—are emotional: For or against the Mormons? Some in the hard kernel of the opposition, using latent French chauvinism and xenophobia, are painting, in horrendous terms, the coming invasion of those dreaded Mormons to the quiet and lovely city of Le Chesnay. By January 31, Avenir46 had gathered 6,000 signatures to protest the planned Mormon temple. The site links to information railing against Mormonism, exposing the evils of this ‘blasphemous, polytheistic’ religion which degrades women, brainwashes children, and isolates its members from society—not to speak of the pagan rites for dead people at just a few yards from where you walk! Welcome to the 1880s. These contemporary anti-Mormons find support from various French anticult organizations, who are always eager to save victims from cultish destruction. But it should also be said that many French, in comments in newspapers and websites, are voicing their embarrassment at the bigotry of some of their fellow citizens.

Some anticult opponents also voice two concerns grounded in reality: tithing and non-admission for non-members. These are worthy of consideration as they are sometimes real obstacles in issues of cult-identification, recognition, and tax exemption for the Church.

In France (as in other countries) the government or an official watchdog defines a harmful cult according to a number of criteria. One criterion is extortion: requiring a significant amount of money to allow access to ‘vital’ religious material, sacraments or ordinances. On the basis of that criterion, Scientology has been a main target for judicial action in a number of European countries, also in France. Though the Mormon Church is not officially listed as a cult in France, the same critique of extortion is sometimes leveled at the Church. Since for Mormons the temple ordinances are a required step for exaltation and since a temple sealing is necessary for a religiously sanctioned marriage, a temple recommend is needed. To obtain one, one must be a full tithe payer. In a country like France, with high taxes and a high cost of living, tithing represents a significant amount of money. It is easy for outsiders to define as extortion this combination of the highest religious exigency and the obligation to pay for it. Some accuse the Church of building temples with the concealed purpose of raising more tithing. It seems that one way to defuse this criticism would be to leave out the tithing question from the recommend interview or to alter it to a willingness to pay tithing.

Once dedicated, a temple is accessible only to Mormons in good standing. The exclusion of non-members, even for a visit outside religious service hours, is not only difficult to understand for outsiders, but reinforces the image of a secret and therefore perfidious society. The exclusion has been, and still is, a major stumbling block in procedures of recognition and of tax exemption. In the United Kingdom, the claim to tax exemption for the temple was denied because the building does not qualify as a place of “public worship.” The appeal went all the way to the House of Lords in 2007 where it was treated in the context of race and religious discrimination laws. The Church lost. I do not know if Church leaders have ever seriously considered revising the policy of accessibility. One could imagine a temple being opened to visitors on Sunday for explanations on the function of temples, for listening to inspirational music and content, such as Music and the Spoken Word, or for meditation. Such a policy would make it a magnificent church building open on the Sabbath, tax exempt, and, in France, a serene space to welcome and appease the worried citizens of Le Chesnay.

Of course, I foster no illusion about the suggestions made.

68 Responses to The temple in France – Some thoughts

  1. Ben P on February 10, 2012 at 4:43 am

    Thanks for the run-down, Wilfried. I hadn’t been following the story closely, so it is good to catch up on the issues involved.

  2. Amanda in France on February 10, 2012 at 5:20 am

    Interesting analysis. Which sources did you use, aside from Avenir46? The government removed the Church from its list of cults a few years ago, and while it will never look at us the same way it does the Catholic church, we aren’t scrutinized so closely.

    I belong to the Versailles ward, just minutes from the future temple site, and we have been receiving a lot of journalists in the last few weeks, but their stories have focused more on Romney and missionaries than the temple. They have been surprisingly neutral about it, actually. Fun anecdote : one channel came to our sacrament meeting, then to the end of a Mass in Le Chesnay the same Sunday, hoping to dig up some controversy. They ended up not running their footage because the Catholics they interviewed had nothing bad to say about it!

    It is also interesting to point out that until the Church’s project was chosen, the locals were against building social housing on the site, saying it would bring the wrong sort of crowd. Funny how they change their minds.

    What is certain, though, that the French have very misguided views on the Church and unfortunately, journalists don’t make the effort to correct it when reporting on us. We all have been working very hard to counteract that.

  3. Amanda in France on February 10, 2012 at 5:32 am

    ah-HA, you watched the Grand Angle, non?

    Pour les francophones parmi vous:
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xogzgi_grand-angle-mercredi-8-fevrier_news

  4. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 5:57 am

    Thanks, Ben P.!

    Merci, Amanda! My sources are the media and info from the ‘mairie du Chesnay’. Nothing spectacular. I had not watched the Grand Angle, just did now (thanks for the link!). Christian Euvrard does a wonderful job answering the questions and the whole presentation was nicely documented.

  5. Paul 2 on February 10, 2012 at 6:12 am

    Very nice post. In Paris, the church has planned to make the grounds publicly accessible. The Frankfurt temple also has open grounds, and many temples in Europe are not surrounded by fences. This openness is win-win because the local non-members can enjoy the beauty of the grounds, and the church can legitimately claim that if the church gets a building permit the temple project will increase the amount of green space available to the public at no cost to taxpayers. “Le site comprendra plusieurs bâtiments et de magnifiques jardins qui seront ouverts au public.” In my opinion this is what wins over local officials.

  6. Amanda in France on February 10, 2012 at 6:21 am

    Agreed. Christian Euvrard = pure awesomeness.

  7. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I was Mormon missionary in France in the 1990s. In fact I lived in Versailles, right next door to this town where the temple will be built. The town, Le Chesnay, was part of my proselyting sector.

    I was there in 1998 when President Hinckley came to a conference in France and made a pseudo temple announcement. Then years went by with no temple. After years of rumors and false starts, it looks like it’s finally going to get done.

    I’m glad a French temple is finally being built, but I’m not thrilled with some of the details.

    The temple site town (Le Chesnay) is nice, but boring. It’s a suburb of Paris. And it’s not even a very interesting suburb. It’s modern and utilitarian. It has none of the charm that Paris and Versailles are known for. The Church could have made a much bigger statement by building the temple in one of the photogenic, postcard-ready, Haussmann-style neighborhoods within the Paris city limits. This would have given the French Mormons something to be proud of, and it would have given American Mormons a landmark to put on their tourist itineraries. I can’t help but wonder if the Church had to settle for out-of-the-way, off-the-itinerary Le Chesnay because of anti-Mormon pressure.

    I’m also really disappointed with the design of the temple. It looks like a student stake center on the campus of BYU-Idaho. I was hoping for a local design à la the Hong Kong, Philadelphia, Manhattan, Stockholm, or Copenhagen temples. Something distinctively French. Instead, it is distinctively Wasatch Front.

    I’ll still be there if this temple gets opened, though.

  8. Kent Larsen on February 10, 2012 at 10:14 am

    If the problem was simply an issue of the tax exempt status of the Temple, I’d bet the Church would pay the tax rather than let non-recommend holders enter the Temple. But recognition and categorization as a “dangerous cult” are something else all together.

    On the surface, the idea that a church must be open to the public seems reasonable — if you are getting a public benefit, shouldn’t you provide a service that is available to everyone in the public?

    In contrast, the idea that religions must be public or they won’t be recognized is hard to understand.

    But I also get the desire to protect individuals from those out to steal their money under the guise of religion. I don’t think that the LDS Church is doing that, but I would be surprised if it hasn’t happened in other cases, and I can see how a government might then put in place just such a restriction to protect the public.

    I’m at a loss for how to respond to these positions. Perhaps someone else has an idea of how to respond?

  9. Craig H. on February 10, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Thanks Wilfried, a really thought-provoking post.

    American Eagle, perhaps the location was chosen not because of anti-Mormon sentiment but precisely because Le Chesnay is a boring suburb: isn’t that where most temples go? I’m sure there’s some statistical profile which could be made about that. I like your suggestion better.

  10. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 10:31 am

    @ Craig H.

    It seems like the Church had been leaning towards urban temples downtown. Think about the Manhattan temple that got built instead of the suburban White Plains, New York one. Think about the new Philadelphia temple going up downtown, just down the road from the Art Museum (where Rocky runs up the steps in the movie- how iconic is that for a location?). These temples are in signature locations and the temples themselves are distinctive landmarks.

  11. Adam Greenwood on February 10, 2012 at 10:35 am

    It’s the Franco-British attitude towards “cults” and religious freedom, not the Church’s doctrine on tithing and temples, that needs to change.

  12. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Interesting topic, American Eagle, but I hope this thread is not going to be about temple architecture. Let’s reserve that for a different discussion.

    Thanks, Kent (#8). Yes, the issues you raise are at the centre of the discussion — relation between government and church on a number of variables, in particular where the Church has to deal with perceptions that it spreads (unwittingly) but which harm its standing. Hope to hear more about this.

  13. Chris on February 10, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I served in the Swiss Geneva mission from 2000-2002. I listen to RFI’s 24h in France podcast every day. I even read the book “60 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.” (Loved it, by the way.)

    This sounds very much par for the course.

    Not that I have the blessing of living in France as Amanda does, but I can confirm that the news is treating the Mormon question with a lot more neutrality than I thought. RFI does a “Mot de l’actualite,” or “Word of the News Day” at the end of their podcast. They picked “matamore,” which is braggart or swagger and used it to describe the race between Newt and Mitt, where Mitt was the Mormon from the “more” part of the word and Newt was the bully. When the podcast host defined the word “Mormon,” I braced for what I knew was surely going to be a less than favorable description. It wasn’t so. Just a regular description that bordered on positive simply for the lack of the word ‘cult’ used to describe us.

    I’m sure this will end being resolved and the Church will move forward with the Temple and eventually the residents will be OK with it, but still harbor French attitudes about it. :)

    Man, I miss those people.

  14. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 11:31 am

    “It seems that one way to defuse this criticism would be to leave out the tithing question from the recommend interview or to alter it to a willingness to pay tithing.”

    Wilfried this is radical. Are you serious? You’re suggesting that the Church drop tithing from the temple recommend interview?

    Tithing is too deeply embedded into our doctrine. It’s one of the fundamental principles of Mormonism. It was one of the 6 missionary discussions in the 1980s and 1990s. You know how Islam has the Five Pillars? If Mormonism had five pillars, one of them would be tithing.

    And yet, your idea is intriguing. Before Lorenzo Snow, Mormons didn’t have to pay tithing. Tithing is one the reasons people go inactive. It’s onerous to support a family on a middle class income while you’re paying 10% to the Church. Like you said, in Western Europe taxes are high and so is the cost of living. Maybe sometime in the distant future, an allowance of some sort would be made for people who come to Church, live the law of Chastity, but only pay 5%.

  15. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Thanks for the reaction, American Eagle. The temple recommend interview has undergone quite a few changes over the years. See Ed Kimball’s “History of LDS Temple Admission Standards” in The Journal of Mormon History, Spring (1998): 135-175. I cannot access the text right now, but I remember the question pertaining to tithing shows interesting nuances over the years.

    Of course, it is not a matter of dropping the tithing requirement, but of formulating it in such a way that outsiders cannot interpret it as a form of extortion. Faithful members desirous to go to the temple will strive to obey all commandments, including tithing.

  16. MC on February 10, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    A temple in Paris proper would be cool, but I can think of two reasons why they didn’t do it:

    1. There is no way the Church could have competed with Paris architecturally. I believe this is why the Rome temple is not anywhere near downtown Rome. With all of that phenomenal and historically significant architecture, anything that came out of Salt Lake would have been diminished by comparison.

    2. It would have been PHENOMENALLY expensive to buy the land. I know they’ve done it before, but it always seems to be in places that don’t have easily accessible suburbs, like Hong Kong or New York.

  17. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    @ MC

    I was also disappointed by the Rome temple. There’s nothing Italian about the design.

    In a big city, there is a lot of good and bad architecture. A Mormon temple may not be able to compete with the very best, but it certainly can be better than most while reflecting local character. Like the Manhattan temple.

  18. chris on February 10, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Are monasteries tax exempt in France? They have sections off limits, and they require pretty much everything to be given to God (church) correct?

    I would assume the temple would have a visitors center and some kind of open area grounds for general public use, provided they maintain a sense of decorum. Wouldn’t both of these cases answer the questions to their exemptions? (Monastery & vow of poverty to counter tithing and open grounds + visitors center to counter privateness).

  19. Dave on February 10, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    One could imagine a temple being opened to visitors on Sunday for explanations on the function of temples, for listening to inspirational music and content, such as Music and the Spoken Word, or for meditation. Such a policy would make it a magnificent church building open on the Sabbath, tax exempt, and, in France, a serene space to welcome and appease the worried citizens of Le Chesnay.

    Yet another reasonable idea that doesn’t have one chance in a million of receiving serious consideration.

  20. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    @ MC

    The Church just dropped $2 billion for City Creek mall in Salt Lake. I think we can afford real estate in Paris.

    We could afford land anywhere at any price.

  21. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    The architectural topic is certainly interesting, though not the aim of this thread. But I appreciate the interest. Let me briefly say that, overall, I do not think that church members “abroad” expect or want a temple to be “typical” for the style of their country.

    1) What is “typical”? The perceptions of a foreign nation are often defined by the stereotypes of the tourist industry. But most countries have a wide variety of architectural styles and creative modernism.

    2) Would we want to come closer to the “typical” religious style of Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican etc. churches in a country? That’s exactly what converts have left behind.

    3) A Mormon temple should be … Mormon. Whatever the varieties in the basic design (which certainly may contain something “local”), there is also something unique to a Mormon temple, affirming a worldwide connection.

    Let’s not fall in the colonial or paternalistic trap to think that “natives” always need something “native”, with the “nativeness” moreover defined by others.

  22. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    “One could imagine a temple being opened to visitors on Sunday”

    @ Dave and Wilfried

    This is another intriguing idea, but I’m not sure it would work. For all their exterior grandeur, temple interiors tend to be small and spartan. The lobby in the Washington D. C. temple echoes a plain 1970s stake center. In other words, unlike a typical Catholic cathedral in France, there’s really nothing to see inside a Mormon temple. Also, French cathedrals have stone floors and not carpet. The stone can handle random visitor traffic. White pile carpet? Not so much.

  23. Dave on February 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    @ American Eagle

    The Church just dropped $2 billion for City Creek mall in Salt Lake. I think we can afford to get the temple carpets cleaned.

  24. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Chris (#18), you raise an excellent question in connection with tax exemption and public accessibility. Monasteries, and church buildings as such, certainly have a right to keep certain of their areas off limits. Even so, I assume that if their general aim is to serve the public, tax exemption is not a problem. But, as in the case in the U.K. with the Mormon temples, the government decided that the “worship service” had to be public to deserve the tax exemption. It is a complex case with many ramifications. If you can access them, these two articles will tell you much more:

    Sandberg, Russell. “Underrating human rights: Gallagher v Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Ecclesiastical Law Journal 11, no. 1 (2009): 75–80.

    Edge, Peter W. “The construction of sacred places in English Law.” Journal of Environmental Law 14, no. 2 (2002): 161–183.

  25. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I do like how anyone – Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, or atheist – can wander into a Catholic cathedral any time of the day to get some quiet sanctuary from the big city.

  26. MC on February 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    American Eagle,

    That’s not really a fair comparison because the City Creek development will bring in revenue. Even if it isn’t profitable, it’s impact on Church coffers will be far, far less than $2 Billion.

    Moreover, to the extent that City Creek was meant to “protect” the Salt Lake Temple area from being overrun by slums, it serves much the same purpose that the Church has tried to achieve in the last 40 years or so by putting its temples in the suburbs.

  27. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Temples open to the general public on Sundays…?

    Like I said, I foster no illusion about the suggestions made. But I don’t think we should be afraid to be more creative in our thinking. The Church wants to improve its image, get rid of the “weird cult” halo, become more open and transparent, reach more people… So why not dare to imagine what could be done?

    Certainly, there are significant hurdles with such an outlandish idea as a temple open on Sunday for the general public. Of course not to walk through freely. But perhaps the following could be offered … (fill in) under the following conditions … (fill in).

  28. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I think the Church has in general followed the philosophy of becoming more open, and less seemingly cult-like in the last 100 years. Think of every major change in the Church during the last century. Almost every single one of them has been about moving more to the mainstream.

  29. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    “… becoming more open, and less seemingly cult-like in the last 100 years”

    I’m not sure all will agree with that assessment. Perhaps in some areas, less in others. Correlation, retrenchment, counter-church rhetoric (see item 4 there), Prop 8… No doubt the Church is trying to find an ideal balance between its unique identity, its principles, and a certain desire to be liked and accepted in the mainstream. The tensions resulting from that movement are also defining our (often ambivalent) Mormon identity.

    But, at the same time, there are significant differences between situations on the Wasatch-front and elsewhere, like in France or other European countries. It does not seem that the Church has a clear view on how to navigate in other cultures to shake off its cult image. My post tried to indicate some area’s for discussion in that respect.

  30. Kent Larsen on February 10, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Boy, I think the comments here show some significant misconceptions about the Manhattan Temple.

    1. Cost. The Manhattan Temple was a renovation of a building the Church has owned since the early 1970s. The land was then relatively cheap because it was next to a what had until then been a near slum–levelled just a few years earlier to make way for Lincoln Center. The land was relatively inexpensive, and was paid for by selling the then Eastern States Mission Home located on Fifth Avenue just south of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (as I understand it, the building is now the French Consulate). When the current building was made into a Temple, no land had to be purchased.

    2. Architecture. Since the Manhattan Temple was a renovation, the underlying architecture was already in place. The building is, in fact, similar to at least one other building a few blocks to the south. The only thing that was changed on the exterior was the facade. So, I’m not sure that it is fair to suggest that the Church chose to have the building look the way it does. The architect did what he could with the underlying, already existing building.

  31. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    @ Kent Larsen

    I didn’t say the Church did pay market rate for the Manhattan Temple real estate. I said the Church could.

    Regardless of why, you can’t deny that the Manhattan Temple looks more urban than the Mount Timpanogos Temple.

  32. Kent Larsen on February 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    FWIW, I agree with MC about City Creek. The Church looks at it as an investment, which also protects its downtown presence in SLC.

    Financially, I’m convinced that the Church is facing some difficulties. Because the growth of the Church is primarily in low-income areas of the world, the amount of tithing it gets per member family seems like it must be going down substantially, while the amount the Church spends per member family is probably stable to decreasing slightly. The Church’s investments may make up for some of this, but if this is true, the Church may be feeling some financial pressure. I don’t think the Church wants to spend money it doesn’t have to.

  33. Kent Larsen on February 10, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    AE (31), it definitely looks more urban. But I don’t think its going to win any architectural awards. With Lincoln Center across the street, ti doesn’t really stand out that much.

  34. clark on February 10, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    I’d second Wilfried (29) Certainly there was, especially under Pres. Hinkley, a focus on building common ground. However we still have a lot that makes us distinct. Further in other nations without the type of religiosity and diversity common in the US what counts as mainstream is very different. The mainstream in the US is significantly affected by the fact so many Americans belong to a conservative Christian church. In Europe church is much more an issue of being social or identifying with historical roots whereas the countries tend to be much more secular. I don’t think you can compare mainstream in the two areas. Then mainstream in Korea or Japan is quite different again.

    MC (26) add in that the development offers an expansion for BYU classes thereby easing pressure on the Provo campus as well as housing the LDS Business college. The Church would put the space to use even if it isn’t successful on the commercial side of things.

    Wilfried (OP) One could imagine a temple being opened to visitors on Sunday for explanations on the function of temples, for listening to inspirational music and content, such as Music and the Spoken Word, or for meditation.

    Originally I was going to say that this wouldn’t work due to the notion of sacred space. It’d need to be rededicated every Monday. Then I remembered the small temples Pres. Hinkley set up like the one in Halifax, NS where I believe everything is taken down and boxed up and then reset up when the temple is operational. (I don’t know if this is still done – it seemed problematic at the time but illustrates what they are open to)

    Of course I’d be opposed to that sort of temporary temple as a general policy as I think it loses the sense of sacred space.

  35. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Excellent thoughts, Clark (34). You express well the difference between the religious landscape in the U.S. and in many other parts of the world. It affects the perception of a cult in relation to whatever the characteristics of the mainstream are. That’s why we need to better understand which items convince outsiders in different countries that we are a cult or not.

    As to making a temple accessible to the public on Sundays, I do not believe that the concept of “sacred space” should be an obstacle. Two possibilities:

    - Such a space can be viewed as a temporary condition, defined by the event taking place, not bound to the material setting. On Sunday evening, the temple becomes again, automatically, a dedicated sacred space for Mormons alone.

    - If this temporary condition is not acceptable, and the temple must retain its sacred-space identity all the time, why not see Sunday as the moment that others are allowed to enter our sacred place, to partake of its holy atmosphere on the level they can feel and appreciate it? Sacred space, not secret. We share it for a few hours and hope the Spirit will touch hearts in a way difficult to replicate elsewhere.

  36. clark on February 10, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    I think the very nature of dedicated space that is sacred is an important concept. It’s strange this would be considered cultic (in the pejorative sense) as it is part and parcel of temple Judaism. But of course both religion and what some as strange religion rarely is rational. It’s typically based upon what people are used to. I think most people crying the most about “cult” would be deeply horrified if they saw 100 BCE Judaism even though that’s where their own religion came from.

    Anyway, the very notion of sacred space involves blocking those not ready for the space. Even when temple tours are done you’ll note that some places aren’t shown. Tours never enter into the equivalent of the Holy of Holies for instance in those temples that have it.

    Of course I’m not running things and as I said Hinkley clearly was thinking more along your lines when he was alive. Personally though I think there’s room for common ground if some areas in the temple opened up more regularly. Maybe not every Sunday but do what some monasteries (either Christian or Buddhist) do and have a yearly open house. That’d be quite in keeping with what we already do when renovations are done and there’s typically a few weeks of open house. You can then clean the carpets, dedicate the temple, and proceed with sacred space.

  37. Mark D. on February 10, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    If I were to guess, the probability that the church would substantially change temple recommend or admission practice based on the absence of a tax exemption for the church or contributions from it members is essentially non-existent.

    Governments do not have a moral obligation to provide tax exemptions to people, and what tax exemptions are provided can be on virtually any basis whatsoever. Availability to the public is just as good as any other. There is nothing about religious liberty that requires subsidies from the government.

    However, the issue about siting is substantially different. Governments that deny religious denominations the freedom to construct worship facilities on a neutral basis are engaged in the practice of deciding, on a relatively subjective basis, which religious denominations should be favored with elementary civil liberties, and which should be denied them. That is a much more serious matter. Subsidies from the government are a footnote by comparison.

  38. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    @ Mark D

    Out of curiosity, what’s your position on the Ground Zero Mosque?

  39. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Thanks for the ongoing exchange on this topic, Clark (36).

    Sacred space is relative. As you probably know, up to the year 1911 the outside world was not even supposed to know what the interior of the temple looked like. Secret sacred space. Until apostate Gisbert Bossard succeeded in taking inside pictures of the Salt Lake temple (at a time it was closed for cleaning) and next blackmailed the Church for the return of the photographs. How did the First Presidency react? Preemptive strike: by announcing that the Church would publish a book with pictures of the interior of Mormon temples. Soon the book was there: James Talmage’s The House of the Lord.

    Members had to get used to such a change in perception of their sacred space: what was supposed to be reserved for Mormon eyes only, suddenly was shown to the world. The Church is able to adapt.

    For details of the ‘sensational’ picture story in 1911, see Kent Walgren, “Inside the Salt Lake Temple: Gisbert Bossard’s 1911 Photographs,” Dialogue 29/3 (1996): 1—43.

  40. clark on February 10, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    The Church can adapt of course. I think the question is more a functional one. I think not having a real strong sacred space is something that would be a profound loss.

  41. Mark D. on February 10, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    AE (#38), my position on the GZM is that clearly the government doesn’t have any basis to deny a local siting on a religious basis, nor on a political basis short of advocacy of outright sedition, perhaps.

    As to whether the organization concerned should put it there and whether anyone should object outside the political process, that is all a great deal more subjective. If they are putting it there in order to be close to Ground Zero, or with the purpose of celebrating its downfall, I would say that is in extraordinarily bad taste.

  42. Left Field on February 10, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    I believe that in Manhattan, there is an elevator that moves out of temple space on Sunday and back in on Monday.

  43. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    You’re absolutely right, Mark D (37). Not getting a tax exemption is a minor matter because it does not hamper the function of the Church. In Europe the Mormon Church has exemptions in some countries, not in others. As long as the Church can function, it can live with the difference. A little less minor is that members can deduct their donations in some countries, not in others. We tell the latter they will get more blessings.

    The point I was making in the post is that the exclusion of non-members to visit the temple outside our religious “service” reinforces the cult image and that such image can have negative consequences for the church as an institution and for individual members (for years, one of the reasons a temple permit was so difficult to get in France was the non-public nature of the temple). So the question is if some flexibility would help the Church. One must see this in the context of certain countries, it does not affect all.

    Again, all this is creative dreaming. No need to keep telling it will never happen.

  44. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    @ Mark D

    The average French person is leery of a Mormon temple much in the same way.

  45. Wilfried on February 10, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Left Field (42), LOL ! Great to have you here.

  46. Mark B. on February 10, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    There never was any such thing as a “Ground Zero Mosque.” That term was invented by a bigot, an anti-Muslim harpy named Pamela Geller.

    We should be extremely leery of letting bigots like her define our national conversation about religion.

  47. MC on February 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I should emphasize that I actually like the Rome temple design just fine. If they had tried to mimic St. Peter’s Basilica in style, they would have embarrassed themselves. No matter how much they spent on it,it would have looked like a cheap knock-off because there’s no Michaelangelo around these days. And if they had planted a modernistic temple in downtown Rome (if such a thing were even possible), it would have had much the same effect as that stupid glass pyramid that was planted at the Louvre.

  48. American Eagle on February 10, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    @ Mark B

    Whether the term was invented by bigots or not, it stuck.

  49. Kent Larsen on February 10, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Are the French’s objections to the Paris Temple really the same as the objections to the mosque in lower Manhattan? The logic that Wilfried listed in the post, if they are the real objections, isn’t anything like what I heard when there were so many people objecting to the mosque.

  50. Beth on February 11, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Interesting post, Wilfried! It is no surprise to me that the planned temple makes headlines.

    On a weekday afternoon in 2007, I was tutoring a student in the building used by the Church on rue Saint-Merri in Paris. A 60-ish woman came in and asked if was true that Mormons used this building. We replied it was true. She said it was absolutely shameful that Mormons were allowed to have meeting space in Paris. “Such a religion should be outlawed. And to be allowed in a historic district!” She was going to talk to the mayor, she said as she left.
    And you wonder, #7, why the Church didn’t try to get a space in Hausmann Paris? Can you imagine how difficult that would be?

    I for one am thrilled that the temple will be near the Versailles Ward because there is a concentration of Church members there and the site is accessible by public transport.
    And I think the design is good: I see a modern homage to le Grand Trianon, which is nearby. I expect the Church will put in some spectacular flower beds and the locals will consider the building a great improvement over the previous installation.

    Hourra pour les membres francais! Enfin!

  51. Wilfried on February 11, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Kent (49) asked: “Are the French’s objections to the Paris Temple really the same as the objections to the mosque in lower Manhattan?”

    Objections have come, as I explained, from various corners. Some had nothing to do with Mormonism (in particular local town politics), others did (and mostly from outside the town, from anticult hunters). Within that anti-Mormon group there are a few critiques that smack of the Manhattan-Mosque anti-Muslim arguments, i.e., crude religious intolerance toward that horrific religion that dares to build so close to the historic centre of the French Catholic monarchy (Versailles). As if the Church really wants to defy France’s hegemony.

  52. Wilfried on February 11, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Thank you, Beth (50), for your contribution to the thread. Indeed, there are still many people who have been fed with lurid anti-Mormon information. We need to do more to counter, hence suggestions to do something more daring…

    Nice that you see in the Paris temple design a modern homage to the nearby Grand Trianon. Could well be. I think Church architects do a remarkable job trying to combine the unique feel of a Mormon temple with something local. But, as you know, des goûts et des couleurs… . While one person cannot appreciate the design of the Louvre’s glass pyramid (see comment 47), others see in the pyramid the dynamic combination of pure form with the calculated balance of the ancient frame surrounding it. Daring. Art.

  53. American Eagle on February 12, 2012 at 12:46 am

    In France, if you’re not a less-active Catholic or atheist, you’re outside the mainstream.

    Of those outside the mainstream, only active Catholics, Jews, and Muslims are considered normal. Everyone else is viewed the same way Scientologists are viewed in the United States.

  54. Amanda in France on February 12, 2012 at 2:57 am

    On my phone bear with me!

    Not only is land in Paris ridiculously expensive, the size of the terrain needed just doesn’t exist within the city. Someone mentioned the Paris ward building…it is absolutely awful and in a less than desirable neighborhood but it’s all we have. As for the choice of suburbs, Le Chesnay may be boring but it is accessible by public transport and it is safe. Go to any suburb to the east of Paris or around Saint Denis and you will agree that Le Chesnay is a wiser choice. Versailles is also the stake center so there’s that. As for the architecture I too am disappointed but its proximity to the chateau makes it subject to certain rules: no angel Moroni for example. Even in 2012 the Sun King reigns in Versailles!!

    Don’t really want to debate the public opening but I do think that no one would come and what the neighborhood specifically doesn’t want are our pesky missionaries. The church has been emphasizing our discretion when visiting the temple.

  55. Velikiye Kniaz on February 13, 2012 at 1:43 am

    Thank you, Amanda, for answering my unwritten question regarding the
    lack of a spire and the angel Moroni on the Temple. I concur with “American Eagle” regarding the design of the Temple. The French are a sophisticated and discerning people who have a very substantial treasury of fine architecture within their borders and we should build a Temple that both reflects our Faith and is aesthetically pleasing to all visitors. However, I don’t think that we should go so far as turning dedicated sacred space into a weekend tourist destination. That is the purpose of the “open house”; to allow those who are genuinely curious to see the interior of an LDS Temple, get their questions answered, and hopefully come away with a better understanding. Should there be more crowds than the open house can handle in the allotted time, the open house can be extended. Personally, I don’t believe that the open house will set any records.
    Religion among many of the peoples of the western industrialized nations seems to invoke more ennui than diligent faith. Our religion is a very demanding one and if your values are decidedly secular and your motivations self-indulgent, Mormonism offers little that would appeal. We needn’t negotiate away our values and our standards just to appease our critics. As to Le Roi Louis XIV, we should move the royal name to the bottom of the list for Temple work for his law truncating any type of spire on the Lord’s Temple. On second thought, move him next to the bottom, then he can stand on the shoulders of Cardinal Richelieu and watch for his turn to come!

  56. American Eagle on February 13, 2012 at 8:03 am

    “Le Chesnay may be boring but it is accessible by public transport”

    Every city in France is accessible by public transportation. I never had a bike or a car during my entire time there.

  57. Ardis E. Parshall on February 13, 2012 at 10:18 am

    That is simply not true, American Eagle. Not by a long shot.

  58. Sonny on February 13, 2012 at 10:35 am

    American Eagle,

    That is so cool that you got to serve in every city in France.

  59. American Eagle on February 13, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Name a in France city with over 10,000 people that does not have public transportation.

  60. Ardis E. Parshall on February 13, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I didn’t say there was *no* public transportation, American Eagle, only that your claim is too simplistic. Three of France’s biggest cities — Toulouse, Lyons, and Marseille — all have public transportation systems, great ones, but that doesn’t mean you can get everywhere easily. Stand-alone chapels and temples tend not to be built in city centers where public transportation is most convenient but in suburbs and semi-rural areas. If you want to attend church in Toulouse in the chapel that is in the kind of area where a temple might be situated, for instance, you’d better be prepared for a long, looooong walk.

    Amanda is certainly in a better position to know commuting options in the Paris area right now than you are.

  61. American Eagle on February 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    You can get anywhere in metro Paris with no car.

  62. Sonny on February 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    You can get anywhere in metro Paris with no car.

    Like Ardis said, you are looking at the public transportation issue too simplistically, or at least stating it too simplistically.

    Now I make no claim of knowing anything specific about placement criteria of a temple, but I place good money on public transportation as a high consideration. Further, I would bet it is not just a matter of whether there is *some* sort of public transportation, but transportation that also considers things like frequency, connections to other forms of public transportation, reliability, safety, number and direction of connection points, etc.

  63. Mike on February 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    To American Eagle #61: I for one would not relish the thought of going to the chapel at 5 Rond-point de l’Alliance in Versailles carrying a suitcase after having taken the train, then a bus, and then walking. Easy access via public transportation is definitely an issue, and the location in Le Chesnay seems as well placed as one can imagine. Given the number of issues the church has had to address to get this far, I for one am EXCITED! :-)

  64. American Eagle on February 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    @ Mike

    Le Chesnay is far away from the train station. You still have to take a bus.

  65. Kent Larsen on February 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Sonny (62) wrote:

    “Now I make no claim of knowing anything specific about placement criteria of a temple, but I place good money on public transportation as a high consideration.”

    Well, I think this is more true outside of the U.S. than inside the U.S., where everyone makes the assumption that members all have cars. Except for the Temple here in Manhattan, is there any recent (last 10 years) Temple that is located within a 10 minute walk of frequent public transportation? Perhaps the Temple in Philadelphia will be?

    We here in New York City gave a great sigh of relief when the plan for the White Plains Temple was put on hold in favor of remodeling the Lincoln Center building into a Temple. The closest subway stop is across the street as is the closest bus stop.

    But, as far as I can tell, this is very unusual in the rest of the U.S.

  66. Wilfried on February 13, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Thanks all, for keeping the thread alive, but I would rather have us stay out of the discussion how easily places can be reached or not in France. I trust church leaders have studied the issue thoroughly, also taking into account the Mormon demography in France and the location of the temples in neighbouring countries.

    Velikiye Kniaz (55), thanks for joining us here. You mentioned: “I don’t think that we should go so far as turning dedicated sacred space into a weekend tourist destination”.

    Well, that was not really my suggestion. The aim is how to avoid the cult-image reinforcement, the loss of tax-exempt status for temples such as in the U.K., and the trouble to obtain a building permit for a temple because of the ‘discriminatory’ nature of temple entrance (as perceived by outsiders). One possibility I suggested is to consider a limited opening on Sunday for a spiritual, preferably non-denominational meeting, such as listening to Music and the Spoken Word. Does not even have to be advertized if the Church wants to keep it limited and discreet. As Amanda (54) said, probably none to very few will come, but by allowing limited access we cannot be accused any more of forbidding access to others. The building becomes just enough “public”.

  67. JWL on February 15, 2012 at 10:46 am

    As Kent has noted, the Manhattan Temple is a special case because it was a renovation of an existing stake center building. However, the Manhattan Temple does offer an interesting approach to the “public access” issue. The original chapel parts of the Manhattan building continue to be used for regular ward services, including a large chapel which can satisfy anyone’s reasonable definition of a public worship space. With that and lots of classrooms, offices, etc. to show people, the fact that some areas of the building are restricted seems less significant. In areas where public accessibility is an important issue, whether for tax or PR or other reasons, perhaps the Church should consider more multiple use structures. The Hong Kong Temple is another example which was specifically designed to be multiple use.

  68. David C. Maness on March 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    I really appreciate this discussion. I actually like the understated architechture. As for accessibility to public transportation, I don’t see that as a problem. People can carefully plan their trips, carpool, and use the underground parking. Opening the temple to the public even part time to appease critics is a terrible idea. The temple is a sacred space solely for sacred ordinances. It belongs to the Lord, and is not ours to show off like the Parade of Homes. Likewise, softening application of the Lord’s law of tithing is not our right. If the Paris France Temple costs too much, either in money or in social cred, then we just won’t be able to have it, and the members will just have to keep schlepping all the way to surrounding countries.