Cable television network HBO on Tuesday defended its plans to depict a sacred Mormon temple ceremony in an upcoming episode of "Big Love."

The drama about a Utah polygamous family will depict an endowment ceremony Sunday.

HBO said it did not intend to be disrespectful of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and apologized.

"Obviously, it was not our intention to do anything disrespectful to the church, but to those who may be offended, we offer our sincere apology," HBO said in a statement issued Tuesday.

But the ceremony is an important part of the "Big Love" story line, the network said. In the scene, actress Jeanne Tripplehorn's character, Barb, goes through the endowment ceremony as she faces losing her membership in the LDS Church, which does not sanction polygamy.

On Monday, LDS Church leaders criticized HBO for its decision to include the ceremony and said airing the material shows the insensitivity of the network's writers, producers and executives.

"Certainly church members are offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding," the church statement said posted at www.lds.org. The church has also posted a video about temples on YouTube.

Only church members in good standing can enter temples to perform or witness sacred ceremonies. The ceremonies are centered around religious teachings and reenactments of Bible stories to help Mormons prepare an eternal place for themselves — and others by proxy — in heaven.

"In approaching the dramatization of the endowment ceremony, we knew we had a responsibility to be completely accurate and to show the ceremony in the proper context and with respect," Olsen and Scheffer said in a separate statement issued through HBO. "We therefore took great pains to depict the ceremony with the dignity and reverence it is due."

The church declined an interview request by The Associated Press.

News of the episode has sparked an online campaign by individual Latter-day Saints, who are calling for a boycott of 'Big Love' and cancellation of subscriptions to HBO, AOL and other Time Warner-owned entities.

The church itself has not called for a boycott and said in its statement that doing so would just fuel controversy and interest in the program. Church leaders also said members of the rapidly growing faith should not feel defensive about HBO's characterization of Mormons.

"There is no evidence that extreme misrepresentations in the media that appeal only to a narrow audience have any long-term negative effect on the church," leaders said in the statement.

"Big Love" is in its third season on HBO and a fourth is in the works. The program tells the story of a fundamentalist who runs a chain of hardware stores and lives with three wives in a Salt Lake City suburb.

When "Big Love" first aired, negotiations between the church and HBO resulted in a one-time disclaimer included in the show's credits that distinguished the modern church's position on polygamy from the beliefs of the fictional characters in the series.

This season, however, the show's polygamy-focused stories have included more mainstream Mormon references.

"Despite earlier assurances from HBO, it once again blurs the distinction between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the show's fictional non-Mormon characters and their practices," the church statement said.