Temple worship has long distinguished the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from mainstream Christendom. Even the denominations that trace their roots to LDS Church founder Joseph Smith have largely defined temple doctrines and ordinances as relics of the past; others have adopted and restored them to what they deem to be their purest form. To understand the LDS people is to grasp the impact the temple has had on church members as they embraced both temple-related teachings as essential to exaltation as well as the brick-and-mortar structures that stand as symbols of faith and sacrifice.
Christian Larsen has assembled a collection of essays that illuminate the role of the temple and its rocky relationship with controversial subjects such as race and marriage. Some temples were built, abandoned, and given new life; others were either constructed for temporary use or never built at all. The nature of LDS temple ordinances is such that what LDS members deem sacred, others dismiss as secret.
"The past few decades have witnessed an increasing reaction of the Mormons against their own successful assimilation," Armand Mauss writes in The Angel and the Beehive, "as though trying to recover some of the cultural tension and special identity associated with their earlier 'sect-like' history."
This retrenchment among Mormons is the main theme of Mauss's book, which analyzes the last forty years of Mormon history from a sociological perspective. At the official ecclesiastical level, Mauss finds, the retrenchment can be seen in the greatly increased centralization of bureaucratic control and in renewed emphases on obedience to modern prophets, on genealogy and vicarious temple work, and on traditional family life; retrenchment is also apparent in extensive formal religious indoctrination by full-time professionals and in increased sophistication and intensity of proselytizing.