Temple John: Where do the Fallen Go?

By: Bored in Vernal
January 30, 2011

NT SS Lesson #6

Apostles. This Sunday School lesson gives them a special cachet; a privileged status as special emissaries and powerful witnesses of the Savior. There is no mention of Judas, or William McLellin, of Richard R. Lyman, or even Peter. Though the lesson states that “many of those who heard Jesus failed to recognize him as the Savior,” it does not acknowledge what we learn in the Gospels: that in fact his own apostles never fully understood his role as Savior. So, in this post, rather than extol the virtues of apostles, I’d like to examine, lament, and celebrate the all-too-human characteristics of those men who are called as special testators of Christ.

Our correlated material takes the real characters from the New Testament and cleans them up a bit, rounding off the rough edges so that they appear in the best light possible. This establishes the proper example for members to follow. Certainly nothing embarrassing is presented. But the Gospel writers show the flaws, the less than perfect traits of these men:

  • Several times the Apostles contend with each other for preferential treatment (Mark 10:37) or argue about who is the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-34).
  • They often succumb to fear, as in Mark 4:37-39, Matthew 14:30, Matthew 26:47-56, or John 20:19.
  • Their lack of faith is demonstrated when they are unable to cast out demons (Matthew 17: 9-20).
  • The Apostles didn’t understand Jesus’ parables (Mark 4:10), his power, (Mark 6:35-44), his warnings (Matthew 16:6-11), his teachings (Matthew 15:10-20), his actions, (John 13:6-10), or his announcement of his own death (Matthew 16:21-23).
  • Jesus’ three favorites: Peter, James, and John couldn’t even stay awake and keep watch with him an hour or so in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-41).

Rather than whitewash the foibles of these chosen ones, I think it’s important to understand that Christ can still choose and work with some very flawed human beings. I’m often dismayed when Church history presents characters as either completely good or completely wicked. The truth is, Joseph had his vices and Thomas B. Marsh had his virtues. Latter-day Saints tend to make the difficulties disappear.

This was symbolically presented in a recent incident that came to my attention. I learned that actor Fred Hunting, who played the Apostle John in one of the temple films, had been edited out of all of the scenes in which he appeared. It wasn’t clear why Hunting merited such a fate. Some speculated that it had to do with his position on same sex marriage during the recent California proposition. He signed a petition that was sent to the First Presidency, asking them to change their position on same gender attraction. Was he removed from the temple film at the Church’s discretion, or did he ask to be taken out? The information is unavailable.

When I heard this news last week, I made a trip to the Columbia, South Carolina temple to see for myself. There was indeed a different John — the change was very striking to me and I would have noticed it even had I not been looking. (The new John looks a bit like John Remy, with a slight Asian cast to his face.) It looked as if the entire figure had been edited, not just the face. I say this because his clothing seemed different than before. Also, the lighting on the new figure appeared a teeny tiny bit brighter, which made the figure stand out. On the whole, though, the editing was done fairly professionally, so it wasn’t distracting. John stands pretty still in most of the scenes, making few extraneous motions, so he is unobtrusive. Someone who is seeing the film for the first time, or even someone who doesn’t attend very often will probably not even notice the change.

All of this made me unaccountably sad. Where do the fallen go, in our Church? Are they replaced as if they had never been, as when Jesse Gause‘s name was stricken from the Doctrine and Covenants and replaced with Frederick G. Williams? Can we admire and revere our pitted prodigals, or do we banish them in favor of polished paladins?

Temple John: Where do the Fallen Go?

You disappeared without the slightest trace,
Your face erased, estrangement none knows why.
To Punic marble pillars in the sky
A new disciple came to take your place.

And ne’er a hole to mark the spot you took,
For from your sacred calling did you swerve.
Though stalwart in the background one may serve,
Once fallen, soon forestalled in God’s grim book.

The leather sandals that you used to wear,
The apostolic staff you held in hand,
Are gone, as well as angels at your side.

The mighty Priesthood that you used to bear
Cleaves even now unto another man,
Replacing you in temples far and wide.

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29 Responses to Temple John: Where do the Fallen Go?

  1. Henry on January 30, 2011 at 5:40 AM

    The Church rolls on, with or without you.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 4

  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on January 30, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    Rather than whitewash the foibles of these chosen ones, I think it’s important to understand that Christ can still choose and work with some very flawed human beings.

    This was one of the strongest lessons I learned from reading scriptures.

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  3. Stephen M (Ethesis) on January 30, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    Though, I have to add, this is the thing that many early apostates were certain of, that the work could not roll on without them, that they were irreplaceable. So many different lessons, so many different ways to teach them.

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  4. Mister Curie on January 30, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    That’s really interesting news that they have replaced one of the actors in the video. I’d love to know the story behind that change, seems so odd.

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  5. Bored in Vernal on January 30, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    I’d love to know the story, too. If anyone has more info, please share.

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  6. Martin Kokol on January 30, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    Mistor Curie – you’re being too nice here. it’s not interesting news, it’s disturbing. And it’s not odd, it’s shocking. Whitewashing history is one thing. At least I was raised on George Orwell and could tolerate that prospect. But, this is payback for anyone exercising their voice in the name of conscience to church leaders? Adds yet another pebble onto the side of the scale that is tipping me towards leaving.

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  7. Joseph Antley on January 30, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    Creepy picture.

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  8. Paul on January 30, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    #6 It seems odd that you would make that judgement without any evidence. The OP makes clear the reason for the change is unclear — whether the church chose to do it or the actor himself chose it. In the end, the temple film is the church’s and it can do with it what it wants.

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  9. mcarp on January 30, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    This whole thing seems very Stalin-esque. When one of Stalin’s generals fell from grace, their image was doctored out of all official photos.

    Have all of Paul Dunn’s or George P. Lee’s conference talks been excised from lds.org? I’m sure there are those who would like to do so. Hmmm, I just checked and there are no talks by those two on lds.org. So, I guess the LDS church is pretty much like communist Russia.

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  10. Roger on January 30, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    And I always thought that Frederick G. Williams would have some interesting stories to tell. One of life’s conundra: On my mission, many years ago we had a Day of Pentecost experience with Paul Dunn and it is all very sad about him. I remember receiving a collection of his tapes from my SIL after his “difficulties”–who didn’t want to have anything that had to do with him in her house—so I got them. I guess they and I were worthy of each other.

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  11. Rigel Hawthorne on January 30, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    I would think one could make an argument in that a temple film is different from a motion picture. In addition to being actors, the individuals are ‘temple workers’ akin to those in SLC and Manti that recite the entire dialog.

    Unlike the SLC and Manti temple workers that would no longer recite their roles during endowment ceremonies when they are released, the film actors performances continue to represent temple workers long after they have finished their stint.

    If changes have occurred in their lives where they would no longer be able to accept a call as a temple worker, it would put in the question of the appropriateness of having their past performance go on.

    I appreciate the service they gave to make the temple films what they are and wish them well. Interesting post…not something I would have heard about elsewhere. Where do you get the names of the actors from temple films anyway? If I could find the name of one, it would be the blonde Eve from the old, old film when films were not musically scored. If I had been Adam, I would have called her, ‘WOW’.

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  12. Bored in Vernal on January 30, 2011 at 7:28 PM

    I think that is how you pronounce חוה in Hebrew…

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  13. Steve on January 30, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    The fundamental problem is that there is a strong urge in church circles to never show weakness.

    That leads to the whitewashing.

    But, I find it very human to believe that past leaders — like many — can ebb and flow in their faith and faithfulness.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  14. kamschron on January 30, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    For what it’s worth, several talks by Paul H. Dunn and by George P. Lee are available and indexed on lds.org as articles in May or November issues of the Ensign.

    The actors in the 1969 temple film are listed on IMDB.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  15. LDS Anarchist on January 31, 2011 at 2:55 AM

    #12, I’d put it as EE-Yow-Why-EE.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  16. alice on January 31, 2011 at 8:32 AM

    Seems to me he may no longer *want* to represent something that has betrayed his personal beliefs and it’s merely those who have a hard time with someone moving on in their lives that are stuck with a problem.

    If it’s entirely mutual is there a problem? Or is the problem having to deal with the idea that institutions turn their backs on individuals and individuals turn their backs on institutions?

    For now, while people remember the original film, people will just have to accept that there was a parting of the ways or try very hard not to think about the elephant in the room.

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  17. Troy on January 31, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    Indeed, there are more than a few articles by both Lee and Dunn up on the Ensign search engine:

    George P. Lee
    Paul H. Dunn

    But, I suppose that’s not that surprising. What I’d like to see is whether all of their talks that would normally be up there are up there, in their original content, and whether any have been scrubbed or removed. But, alas, I don’t have time to do that kind of digging.

    As for the OP, I generally would have to disagree with Packer on his assessment that not all truth is beneficial, or however he said it. The story of how the Church (probably not the church, but some leaders in the Church) pushed back on publishing the Spencer W. Kimball biography because it depicted a man who wasn’t perfect has always rubbed me the wrong way.

    Why can’t we really just embrace what is, was and will be and move forward?

    I once went to a torture museum in Carcassonne, France. During a tour of the museum we we were told about a certain man who was especially gifted at torturing, and killing, people during the inquisition and who was responsible for some irrationally high number of deaths. For the sake of this story, I’m trying not to embellish the details, but this man was some sort of leader in the Church at the time. One of my friends posed a question as to how this man happened to kill so many people and still be a leader in the church and the tour guides underwhelming response was: “Some people make mistakes.” Or something to that effect.

    At least she admitted that there was a mistake, we can’t even bring ourselves to that point. ;)

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  18. Thomas on January 31, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    This whole thing seems very Stalin-esque. When one of Stalin’s generals fell from grace, their image was doctored out of all official photos.

    Trotsky. With “generals,” Stalin didn’t bother with the airbrush. Just shoot ‘em and be done with it.

    So, I guess the LDS church is pretty much like communist Russia.

    Except for, you know, the midnight knocks on the door, the being-dragged-off-to-Siberia, the terror famines, the killing of millions of people, and the stupid adherence to the Labor Theory of Value. In other words, except for the vast majority of what made Communism evil.

    Easy on the Godwinsky’s Law violations. Commies and Nazis are uniquely evil enough that we shouldn’t go around comparing garden-variety institutional foibles to their weapons-grade wickedness.

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  19. Rigel Hawthorne on January 31, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    BIV, did you call ahead of time to see which film was showing at which time, or did you just get your chances that you would see the right one…or do you go so often that you know it by memory??

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  20. Bored in Vernal on January 31, 2011 at 7:40 PM

    Rigel, for some reason that is the film they ALWAYS show in the Columbia temple. Or at least that’s the one I always get. But since it was ward temple night I was going anyway.

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  21. anon on January 31, 2011 at 11:14 PM

    http://lds.org/scriptures/search?lang=eng&type=verse&query=blot&testament=bofm

    Blotting out the unrepentant transgressors is the Lord’s way. It is appropriate to mourn their loss, but that’s the nature of the enterprise we embarked on here in mortality.

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  22. diane on February 1, 2011 at 9:55 AM

    Blotting out the unrepentant transgressors is the Lords’ way

    This is exactly why I don’t believe any more. So, when people don’t agree It’s the Lords’ way of making them repent, is that it. The Lord makes it so that we don’t here from them any more. Blah!, Blah! Hogwash.

    And then off course when they don’t believe anymore were labeled anti’s so were not to be believed anyway.

    More double speak, duplicitous behavior that I’ve ever heard of.

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 5

  23. Homer on February 1, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    Re: 21

    There is a difference between “blotting” someone’s name off the official records due to transgression, whatever that may be, and removing everything that individual has ever done from the records. Scrubbing, removing, cleansing or altering information from a “blotted” person is an entirely different issue and the scriptures you shared have little to do with that.

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  24. diane on February 1, 2011 at 10:53 AM

    21)

    Some people have their name removed from the official record because they simply don’t want to be associated with any of the crap any more, in which case there’s no transgression.

    at any rate, Henry is right in his assertion that the church roles go on with or without you. They do this because no one stands up, They do this because no one is willing to open their mouths when they see abuse going on, They do this because they no they will not be held accountable for their actions. But they put up a good facade of making one believe there are avenues for one to pursue if one so chooses

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  25. Bored in Vernal on February 2, 2011 at 6:09 AM

    Update: Affirmation states that Fred Hunting wrote a letter in 2008 in the Gay and Lesbian Times identifying himself “as a gay man and a former Mormon” and lamenting the Mormon crusade against marriage equality.

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  26. Bishop Rick on February 2, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    diane,

    What sin are you unwilling to give up, or did you just get offended by someone?

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  27. Rigel Hawthorne on February 3, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Cool BIV. Your blog became the subject of a news story.

    All of this made me unaccountably sad. Where do the fallen go, in our Church?

    Hopefully those who were in his ward continue to reach out as friends and do not shun. If he doesn’t want their contact, then hopefully they respect his decision.

    Are they replaced as if they had never been?

    Well, the new Lost in Space movie never replaced Billy Mumy in my mind as Will Robinson. Those who had closest associations with Brother Hunting will always feel like there is an ‘empty chair’ where he once sat with them.

    do we banish them? Not a chance. Wish he would share his secrets on biceps building!

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  28. Dave on February 22, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    I have mixed feelings about the change, but I think no matter what the Church does in this situation, it’s going to reflect negatively on them. Assume they leave him in the video and post Paul Dunn talks on their website — people will point to both of those as examples of LDS hypocrisy — “they repudiate Paul Dunn but post his talks online?” “Look, even the temple video characters are leaving the church.”

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  29. Jonathan on February 24, 2012 at 8:27 PM

    I spent most of my life as a very active Mormon, in ward, stake and even temple leadership. After a long process of re-assessment, I resigned. Bishop and stake president, hearing my reasons, both complimented me for the integrity of the decision.

    Now I read things like “the church will go on without you” and such stuff. That’s fine with me. I think the attempts to erase people like John Hunting attest to the Stalinesque approach of LDS Correlation and the church’s obsession with its image at the expense of truth. I maintain an intellectual interest in the church because it’s where I came from, but zero interest in any interaction with it unless it actively seeks to impose itself on others’ rights (e.g. Prop 8). I’m not surprised by its attempts to re-write history, this story is just the latest example. So it’s fine with me if the LDS church chugs along without me. I’m a lot better off elsewhere.

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