The Mormon Temple and accompanying meetinghouse and visitor center are now complete just off of Logan Circle in Center City Philadelphia. Their apartment tower is under construction now and like the rest of what they’ve brought to this part of the city, it’s a welcome sight. This area used to be parking lots, scattered trash, or worse.

When a Mormon temple is consecrated, only certain Mormons are allowed entrance. Philadelphia’s temple isn’t being consecrated until this fall, and until then the Church is running public tours. I did my tour yesterday. I had reserved a spot, but no one actually checked my reservation when I got there.

I’ve visited Salt Lake and seen Temple Square, so I’ve been familiar with the Latter Day Saints aesthetic and theology for a few years. It’s a fascinating, Americana sort of Christianity—what I think of (respectfully) as a sort of folklore Christianity.

It takes the Jesus Christ any Christian would recognize, but assumes that God’s authority was absent on the earth between the death of the last of Christ’s Apostles and the revelations to Joseph Smith in ~1830. This would mean Catholics and any other Christians are mistaken in their apostolic and doctrinal traditions.

Distinctive aspects of Mormonism are a much manlier, more playful, even boyant Christ than I’m used to seeing. This is probably a consequence of him always depicted as the resurrected Christ. In the Mormonism I saw at the temple, the cross (let alone the crucifix) doesn’t seem to exist. Its place is central to Christians who understand it as the symbol and tool by which Christ defeated death and created the possibility for life—so its absence was jarring to me.

Mormons also believe, unlike their Catholic or Christian brothers and sisters, that their president (equivalent of pope) is also a prophet, and as such can experience direct revelation from God, and so has the ability to alter doctrinal teachings of the faith, even to the point of contradicting past teaching.

Families, and particularly the concepts of eternal marriage, an everlasting family life, baptism of the ancestral dead, and integrated services, including counseslors, for families, saturates the experience of a visit.