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SALT LAKE CITY -- A new controversy is brewing over the HBO program "Big Love." In an upcoming episode, the show's promotion says it will reveal sacred Latter-day Saint temple ceremonies. Church leaders have issued a lengthy response, while Church members are filing complaints.
When the series premiered three years ago, HBO executives assured Latter-day Saint Church leaders the storylines would be about polygamists, not Mormons. But the next episode will blur that distinction and promises to take viewers inside a temple, revealing sacred Latter-day Saint clothing and ceremonies.
The show's executive producer says: "That's never been shown on television before." An ex-Mormon consultant helped him with all the details.
"The rituals and the teachings that take place in those we consider to be sacred and not appropriate for public view," says BYU Associate Dean of Religion Kent Jackson.
Temples are restricted to church members in good standing, and the ceremonies and teachings inside are not intended to be discussed outside of the building. Jackson says other religions have similar sacred rituals.
"Mecca, the center place of the Islamic faith, is restricted entirely to Muslims. Non-Muslims are not allowed to go into the city at all," he says.
In a lengthy statement called "Publicity Dilemma," LDS Church leaders recognize with the faith's prominence, such film and TV attention is inevitable. The statement reads, in part: "Certainly, Church members are offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding." [Click here to read the entire statement]
Leaders of other faiths say all religions hope sacred rituals are treated with respect. "The whole idea of having holy, sacred garments is that they act as a reminder to the person or persons wearing them. That what's going on, what is happening while those garments are being worn is a sacred moment," said Rabbi Benny Zippel, of the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah.
Richard Cowan, a BYU professor of church history and doctrine, said, "It isn't something that we want to keep away from everyone who isn't a member of our faith, but rather something we would like to share with those who are personally and spiritually prepared to appreciate it."
Latter-day Saints are contacting each other and HBO. "I believe it is wrong for HBO to publicly air portions of sacred ceremonies. … If you air such an episode, I will cancel my subscriptions to all HBO channels," they say.
According to the Church, it "as an institution does not call for boycotts..." and "Latter-day Saints should conduct themselves with dignity and thoughtfulness..."
About this week's storyline, the Church's statement reads: "Such things say much more about the insensitivities of writers, producers and TV executives than they say about Latter-day Saints."
HBO admits it hopes this season of "Big Love" will stir the pot in an attempt to gain more viewers. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say that this show about modern-day polygamy now includes more about their faith, but they are not worried about any long-term negative effects.
We spoke with TV Guide's media relations director, who told us that her publication simply uses photographs and quotes that the shows provide. HBO did not return our phone call or e-mail request for a response.
Story compiled with contributions from Carole Mikita and Paul McHardy.