Big Love Temple Scene

matthew's picture

OK, I'm tired of being asked this today, so I'm going to say it once and for all, though I'm not going to link directly because, you know, hyper-sensitive and hyper-vigilant relatives. Yes, the scene in HBO's latest episode of "Big Love" -- very popular on YouTube today -- depicting a Mormon temple ceremony is accurate, including costumes, dialog, and set.

That said, temple matrons do not always shoo you out of the Celestial Room in 15 minutes in the Salt Lake-based LDS church; this bit depicts an off-shoot of the Brighamite** church that may have different policies. However, I've personally been shooed out if I was with a large group, told not to sit on the floor, told not to lean on the wall, and told to quiet down numerous times :)

The scene, despite its accuracy, is not complete. The LDS temple ceremony takes a couple of hours; the Big Love temple scene is around four minutes. There are also two ceremonies which precede the endowment: baptism for the dead and the initiatory. These may have been performed by other patrons if one is attending on behalf of the dead; for convenience, since the clothing required differ so much, most patrons will attend for just one of the types of ceremony.

The discussion regarding a "love court" refers to the LDS practice of excommunication proceedings. This is no longer referred to as a "court of love" in the Salt Lake-based LDS church, but instead as a "disciplinary council". If I understand correctly, some off-shoots of the church still refer to it as a court of love.

LDS church discipline varies according to the offense, at the discretion of the leadership over the member who has transgressed.

  • Informal discipline includes various prohibitions at the discretion of local leadership. This may include a prohibition against public speaking, taking of the sacrament, participating in ordinances, or other personal behavior at the discretion of the penitent and the leader (usually a bishop). First-time offenders, teenagers, and those who have not broken temple covenants usually are dealt with via informal discipline if they are repentant.
  • Formal church discipline is reserved for those who have broken temple vows, repeat offenders, the unrepentant (synonymous with "those who do not take their leader's advice), those who endanger the name of the church, or those who endanger the innocent. Leaders have principally three options via formal discipline: probation, disfellowshipment, or excommunication. Probation may impose arbitrary restrictions on the member. Disfellowshipment may include arbitrary restrictions, but also forbids participation in many LDS activities. Excommunication is a severing of the relationship entirely.


** Scholars often group the fragments of LDS churches as Brighamite, Rigdonite, Strangite, and Whitmerite factions. These refer to the various members of the Quorum of the Twelve who, after the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., vied for power. See Succession Crisis. Most members of these factions never refer to themselves by these names, however, instead referring to themselves as the "Saints". Despite the fertile cross-pollination of traditions and members among many of these factions, most regard the others as apostate groups.

  • Brigham Young led the Brighamite faction west to Utah after Joseph's death; this is the group most commonly associated with polygamy, and also the group most people associate with "the Mormons". The Brighamite, Salt Lake-based church has splintered into a large number of small factions that cross-pollinate cultures and members with the "main-line", largest faction. Usually, if the main-line church becomes aware that a member has joined a splinter group, it will excommunicate that member. Today, if I understand correctly Brighamite factions altogether number around 15 million around the world.
  • Sidney Rigdon led the Rigdonite group. He was Vice-President of the LDS church at the time of Joseph's death, and also First Counselor. He had led a large congregation prior to becoming a Mormon, and carried a large number with him after Joseph's death. However, the groups he led continued to fragment after his death, and no direct Rigdonite tradition appears to exist today AFAIK.
  • James J. Strang led an off-shoot colony devoted to living the United Order, and claimed divine right to lead the church. Although small, the Strangite tradition continues today principally in the Community of Christ (though the main-line Strangites repudiate the RLDS/CoC group as "apostate"), and number only a few thousand today.
  • Most followers of David Whitmer (Whitmerites) were absorbed into the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), also referred to as "Hedrickites". Whitmer was excommunicated from the main-line LDS church, and claimed Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet. Today, they number around 6,000.


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