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October 9th, 2011
07:42 PM ET

My Take: This evangelical says Mormonism isn’t a cult

Editor’s note: Richard J. Mouw is President of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, California.

By Richard J. Mouw, Special to CNN

Some prominent evangelical pastors have been telling their constituents not to support Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidential nomination. Because Romney is Mormon, they say, to cast a vote for him is to promote the cause of a cult.

I beg to differ.

For the past dozen years, I’ve been co-chairing, with Professor Robert Millet of Brigham Young University – the respected Mormon school - a behind-closed-doors dialogue between about a dozen evangelicals and an equal number of our Mormon counterparts.

We have talked for many hours about key theological issues: the authority of the Bible, the person and work of Christ, the Trinity, “continuing revelations” and the career of Joseph Smith, the 19th century founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), better known as the Mormon Church.

We evangelicals and our Mormon counterparts disagree about some important theological questions. But we have also found that on some matters we are not as far apart as we thought we were.

I know cults. I have studied them and taught about them for a long time. It’s worth noting that people have wondered whether I belong to a cult, with a reporter once asking me: “Evangelicalism, is that like Scientology and Hare Krishna?”

Religious cults are very much us-versus-them. Their adherents are taught to think that they are the only ones who benefit from divine approval. They don’t like to engage in serious, respectful give-and-take dialogue with people with whom they disagree.

Nor do they promote the kind of scholarship that works alongside others in pursuing the truth. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, haven’t established a university. They don’t sponsor a law school or offer graduate-level courses in world religions. The same goes for Christian Science. If you want to call those groups cults I will not argue with you.

But Brigham Young University is a world-class educational institution, with professors who’ve earned doctorates from some of the best universities in the world. Several of the top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have PhDs from Ivy League schools.

These folks talk admiringly of the evangelical Billy Graham and the Catholic Mother Teresa, and they enjoy reading the evangelical C.S. Lewis and Father Henri Nouwen, a Catholic. That is not the kind of thing you run into in anti-Christian cults.

So are Mormons Christians? For me, that’s a complicated question.

My Mormon friends and I disagree on enough subjects that I am not prepared to say that their theology falls within the scope of historic Christian teaching. But the important thing is that we continue to talk about these things, and with increasing candor and mutual openness to correction.

No one has shown any impulse to walk away from the table of dialogue. We do all of this with the blessing of many leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some of whom have become good friends.

While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology, I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior.

I find Mormons to be more Christ-centered than they have been in the past. I recently showed a video to my evangelical Fuller Seminary students of Mormon Elder Jeffrey Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles who help lead the LDS church. The video captures Holland speaking to thousands of Mormons about Christ’s death on the cross.

Several of my students remarked that if they had not known that he was a Mormon leader they would have guessed that he was an evangelical preacher.

The current criticisms of Mitt Romney’s religious affiliation recall for many of us the challenges John Kennedy faced when he was campaigning for the presidency in 1960.

Some well-known Protestant preachers (including Norman Vincent Peale) warned against putting a Catholic in the White House. Kennedy’s famous speech to Houston pastors clarifying his religious beliefs as they related to his political leadership helped his cause quite a bit.

But the real changes in popular attitudes toward Catholicism happened more slowly, as Catholic Church leaders and scholars engaged in a new kind of dialogue with each other and representatives of other faith groups, most dramatically at the Second Vatican Council during the early years of the 1960s.

Cults do not engage in those kinds of self-examining conversations. If they do, they do not remain cults.

Those of us who have made the effort to engage Mormons in friendly and sustained give-and-take conversations have come to see them as good citizens whose life of faith often exhibits qualities that are worthy of the Christian label, even as we continue to engage in friendly arguments with them about crucial theological issues.

Mitt Romney deserves what every politician running for office deserves: a careful examination of his views on policy and his philosophy of government. But he does not deserve to be labeled a cultist.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Richard J. Mouw.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Cults • Mitt Romney • Politics • Rick Perry

soundoff (2,721 Responses)
  1. redsawks82

    I hardly call this author's school, Fuller Theological Seminary, evangelical. They're the school that has produced the Rob Bells and the rest of the post-mod emergent movement.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • spindrift

      Yep, Fuller started off the rails when C. Peter Wagner hooked up with John Wimber and introduced the "signs and wonders" and "church growth" courses to the campus back in the mid 80's.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Bill

      You know that Leith Anderson (President of the National Association of Evangelicals), Bill Bright (founded Campus Crusade for Christ), and many other evangelicals went to Fuller right? As a Fuller alumn, there are things I don't like about the school, but one of Fuller's strengths is that they have a wide range of voices.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  2. Al

    You know, the headline of this article could just as well have read "Evangelical says Mormonism isn’t Christian".

    October 9, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  3. dave

    If you are a true Christian it is a cult. I think I will keep my kids away from the kind of people who think there is no one to answer to.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Steve

      Mormons answer to God and His Son Jesus Christ.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • SOFSoldier

      Thank goodness "real" Christians don't judge others......

      October 10, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • John

      What religion did not begin as a cult? What's the difference between cult and religion? Population of followers? Why don't we call Ferrari a cult auto maker? It obviously produces less vehicles than Ford.

      October 10, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Joe

      I am not sure I would call mormonism a cult, but I would say that their beliefs (if you are to listen to the prophets) are odd.

      For example brigham young said "So it is with regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain. It was made to give light to those who dwell upon it, and to other planets; and so will this earth when it is celestialized" (Journal of Discourses 13:271) Yes, the prophet of the mormon church said – as he said that every sermon he gives should be called scripture (Journal of Discourses13:95).

      There is even evidence that joseph smith thought the moon had people living on it – in 1892 a mormon article was written which says:
      "The Inhabitants of the Moon," recorded Huntington: "As far back as 1837, I know that he [Smith] said the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth, and that they live to a greater age than we do—that they live generally to near the age of a 1000 years. He described the men as averaging near six feet in height, and dressing quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style" (The Young Women's Journal 3:263).

      Is this a cult? I don't know. However, it is odd.

      October 10, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  4. MikeinTN

    And that same southern evangelical base is profoundly racist. Especially in the rural areas.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  5. seaboat

    No not all religions are cults. Is there something wrong with having morals and providing charity to thy fellow person?

    October 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • oscar r

      you dont need religion to have morals. helping your fellow man is just the right thing to do, its called compassion. a very human thing. i dont need any book or made up person telling me how to act.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • oscar r

      forgot to add, your explanation has nothing to do with religions being cults.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • jon

      how do you know that compassion is the right thing to do?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • jon

      hatred, violence, and deception are no less "human things." But sometimes these very things help one get ahead in life and offer certain benefits? Why should one show compassion when it can sometimes be costly and inconvenient?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  6. steve porter

    A great read. Thank you. I agree.

    I have followed you for years and have always enjoyed you'r writings.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  7. oscar r

    EVERY GOD##MN RELIGION IS A CULT OK. NO EXCEPTIONS.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  8. Douglas R

    It is interesting to hear Evangelicals change their story about Mormonism. For over a hundred years, conservative mainline Christians have regarded Mormonism as a dangerous cult for over a century. Conservative churches in the Bible Belt where I live) sponsor seminars on cults, their evils and how/why true believers should avoid them, and Mormonism is always near the top of the list. Books like Walter Martin's Kingdom of the Cults are standard fare. But now that there is a substantial chance that a Mormon will be US President, with the power to allocate billions of dollars in "Faith Based Initiative" money, we find that God has sudenly revealed to many conservative Evangelical leaders that they have been wrong all along and they need to make nice with Mormons.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Patty Biller

      it certainly IS a cult. Study it thoroughly. You will see...

      October 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Pat

      Hey Patty, study any religion. Guess what? They all crazy!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • seepm

      Wow this is fun to watch....the extreme religious right is being forced to choose between either 4 more years of leftist liberal gay supporting Obama, or having to vote for a guy who they've been taught their whole lives in sunday school belongs to a polygamous satanic worshiping cult. The funny thing is (something i though i would never see) the right is actually starting to plug their noses and support romney! In other words in their minds gay supporting leftists are bad but satan worshiping polygamous cult guy is somehow ok because at least he won't raise taxes, The comical ironies never cease with the conservatives in this country.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:14 am |
    • Katniss

      But this Mormon happens to be pro-life so he is okey-dokey for this coming election year.

      October 10, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  9. hippypoet

    the definition of cult – applies to all religions, see for yourself!\

    cult
       [kuhlt] Show IPA

    noun
    1.
    a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.

    2.
    an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.

    3.
    the object of such devotion.

    4.
    a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.

    5.
    Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  10. Jim

    Thank you Richard for your article. Mormons are not a cult but followers of Jesus Christ.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • NICKRHODES

      hahaha thats a laugh...what Jesus would that be...oh that "other Jesus" mentioned in the Book of Mormon??

      October 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • exmormon dot org

      Some may be following Jesus, but others are just hoping to pick up some pointers from him–enough to be gods themselves someday with their "forever family."

      October 10, 2011 at 4:11 am |
  11. John

    "Religious cults are very much us-versus-them. Their adherents are taught to think that they are the only ones who benefit from divine approval. They don’t like to engage in serious, respectful give-and-take dialogue with people with whom they disagree."

    So evangelicalism then.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Dave

      and Athiests.

      October 12, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  12. Larry L

    To those of us who view organized religion as evil every one of the religions appear to be "cult-like". They brainwash their members – like telling them how to vote! The Pastors (and their churches) who promote political candidates should lose their tax exempt status and pay the taxes like the other political weasels.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  13. David

    I am a 25 yr old full time college student and web designer and I am a Mormon.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • hippypoet

      so you admitt to being part of a cult...cool, good for you. now for the rest!

      October 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • NICKRHODES

      so did you choose to be a Mormon or were you pushed into it by your parents?...Break free and enjoy your life-a life free of deception.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • David

      your argument doesn't really work. It is like saying break free from what you learned in math and enjoy ignorance. Truth is truth regardless if you believe it or not.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • NICKRHODES

      Thats why Mormonism is a cult...it is pushed as Truth..the only Truth... most Christians believe it is heretical and false...
      Open any Christian book on cults...why is Mormonism listed?...Right along Jehovah Witnesses and the Moonies..

      October 9, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Pot:Kettle

      NICKRHODES,

      You think that your cult is any better? Bigger, maybe, but with the same unfounded proclamation of being the one and only truth.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Sam

      I openly chose to be a mormon.

      October 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  14. Matt

    You may beg or differ all you like, but according to the meaning of the word, all religions are cults. And many religions fit the newer derogatory meaning of the word as well. Look it up in a dictionary.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Other Matt

      cult: an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers.

      According to that definition, freedom is a cult. Democracy is a cult. The democratic and republican parties are cults. Matter of fact, dang near every organization in existence is a cult. Would certainly make "Obama Nation" a cult.

      So, unless you're willing to label all of the above as cults to, I suggest you keep your ignorant opinion to yourself.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • STUCARIUS

      One. Mormons are not Christians. Catholics and Protestants are both Christian groups but the beliefs at the core of Mormonism precludes their being considered Christians at any level. Jesus is more of a prop for them than the pillar of their faith.

      Two. Definitions pertaining to political, religious and social words are constantly moving targets in dictionaries. Get a dictionary from 50 or even 100 years ago and take a look at the profound differences in nearly all such definitions.

      Three regardless of any beliefs I may or may not have I am some what reluctant to support a man for President who's core spiritual belief is that if he lives a sufficiently blessed life he will himself become the deity of his own universe. Yes, that is what sits at the very core of Mormon beliefs. Not something highly advertised but none the less true. Do a little research on Mormon sites.

      -STUCARIUS-

      October 9, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  15. leecherius

    All non-religions are cults.
    Keep your children away from them.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • kimsland

      Utter nonsense leprechaun.
      Watch out I think I see satan taking your baby.
      No wait, that's just the welfare department.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Sidewinder

      It was the dingo that ate your baby...

      October 9, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  16. BoundedReality

    Nonsense,

    Traditionally, from the perspective of orthodox Christianity, a cult is a group of people gathered around somebody's interpretation of the Bible, that always ends up denying the trinity and the divinity of Christ. It has nothing to do with how "open" they appear to be to dialog, nor the educational background of those who profess alligience to that particular faith.

    The Latter Day Saints are a cult, as are Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, etc.

    Let me close by saying that "cult" does NOT equal "bad people", or in any other way imply disqualification from political office, it is simply a way to distinguish those belief systems which are heretical from the perspective of orthodox Christianity. The word can be applied to other groups as well, depending on your starting point,.

    I am an atheist and have no particular love for, or hatred of Mormons. I find both systems equally illogical and irrational, but let's be honest enough to use words correctly and not put our desired politically correct spin on them.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • spindrift

      Agreed. Like many before and since, the LDS belief system is predicated on "exclusive" knowledge. Modern day gnosticism.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  17. ari

    strictly from the definition of the word "cult", i would say that mormonism started out as a cult but has evolved into a more mainstream religion. then again, early christianity and modern-day islam are also "cults" under that definition.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Pumbaa

      When a religion has few members, little money, and little political influence it is a "Cult". The question is how much money, members, and influence does it have to have to become a "religion". How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

      October 9, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  18. NICKRHODES

    MORMONISM IS A CULT...MORONS

    October 9, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Peter

      Of course it's a cult. Their idiot founder talked to a salamander and they believe Jesus came to the Americas, give me a friggin break, just look at Donny and Marie, MORONS opps I mean Mormons! lol

      October 9, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Vanquier

      These folks need to wake up and smell the coffee! I wouldn't vote for this guy anyway because he said that he wouldn't send his sons to a foreign land to fight.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  19. hippypoet

    every religion is a cult... ok, no confusion. yeah, happiness befalls the land now that logic has come to be the common sense of man.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  20. kimsland

    All religions are cults.
    Keep your children away from them

    October 9, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • hippypoet

      you beat me.. and we said the same thing.. too funny! 🙂

      October 9, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Blessed Geek

      Maoism is a cult. So is Marxism and Stalinism. Palinism is a cult.

      Gold-backed-economism is a cult.

      October 9, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.