What does it mean to be a Mormon?
When most people hear the mere mention of the word Mormon, it conjures images of Salt Lake City; temples and shrines of a faith far away. But Philadelphia has played a critical role in the foundation of the Mormon faith, and its growing fast.
Beneath the soaring notes of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, there is the distinct and omnipresent sound of discord.
"In my estimation, Mormonism is a cult," said Rev. Robert Jeffress.
"A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith," said Mitt Romney, Republican Presidential Candidate.
It is a familiar debate that follows Mitt Romney because of the Mormon faith that he follows; a sect of Christianity based on the Bible, and the book of Mormon. The faithful believe it was revealed to a man named Joseph Smith.
"We believe we have pure priesthood authority, that it has been restored upon the earth again," said Robert Smith.
In 1839, eager to share his revelations, Smith came to a Center City Temple, drawing a crowd believed to be 3,000 strong.
Encouraged, Smith himself established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormon Church, in Philadelphia.
"It is, it was one of the first branches of the church outside of the area where they were at the time, back in Ohio," said Robert Smith.
Today, that branch is massive; 13 so-called Stakes in Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware; 94 different congregations.
In all, there are now 32,000 Mormons living, working and worshipping in the Philadelphia area. A group that has almost doubled in size since 1990, and includes such famous faces as Eagles coach Andy Reid, and Phillies ace, Roy Halladay who was raised a Mormon.
"We are a force in this area," says Keith Coe.
So much so, that they will soon alter the city's skyline.
In September, Church leaders broke ground on the soon to be built Mormon Temple, a gleaming, granite structure set rise across the street from the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
Mormons say they understand the misconceptions of who they are and what they believe, blaming much of it on years of isolation.
One major misunderstanding is polygamy. The Mormon Church has condemned the practice for more than a century, but some still link mainstream Mormons to followers of radicals, like Warren Jeffs. Living in isolation, he was long ago excommunicated, and is now in jail.
"We really want to grow based upon the example of what we do," said Keith Coe.
Modern Mormons emphasize community service as part of the practice of their faith. But asked to define that faith, they say they, like all other Christians, follow Jesus Christ.
"Perhaps if there's a fundamental difference, it is that we believe in the active role of Jesus in his church," Coe explains.
And that is the critical difference. Mormons believe Jesus continues to reveal Himself through them.
Church leaders say they are excited about Mitt Romney's success, and hopeful it might bring a better understanding of what it means to be Mormon.
But don't expect an endorsement. The Mormon Church is politically neutral, and allows their members to vote however they choose.
philadelphia, pennsylvania, special reports, brian taff
- Meningitis suspected in Drexel student's death
- AccuWeather: mild today, rain Wednesday
- Get the 6abc StormTracker app
- WATCH: Action News Online
- Reward offered in Collingdale hit-and-run
- Turnpike officials: Road plowed, salted before pileup
- Malaysian military says missing jet changed course
- 6 students hurt in Camden Co. school bus crash
- 2nd suspect sought in finger-biting attack
- Woman shot in bed in South Philadelphia
- 911 recordings released in Ewing Twp. explosion
- Autopsy results released in death of trooper's wife
- Photos: Suspects wanted by Philadelphia Police 6 min ago
- Photos: 'The Bachelor' Season 18 finale in pictures