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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. popeye1128

    My take. You're glossing over the true Republican base. A bunch of crazy Christian fundamentalists. Sorry but the Republican party has allowed itself to be co-opted by these people.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  2. kimsland

    Time for religious beliefs to go away.
    It was very funny at first but now its just sick.
    Actually its still funny at times,.
    Christians believe that god is in my poo, and they're right, now time to flush him down the toilet.
    And kids of religious parents, please laugh at them, they are funny.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • GAW

      @ kimsland See you've been posting a lot here. Maybe its time for you to get up and go for a walk. Get some fresh air cuz it looks like you have nothing new to say. Obsess much?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      She's drunk again.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  3. xpxpxp

    So he doesn't think Mormonism is a cult, but he does think Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Science are. And he bases that on not having a university, law school or graduate level world religion classes. Well I'm sure glad to know what the standards for cults now are.

    What a class act these evangelical's are.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  4. Steve

    To paraphrase...'even the elect wil be deceived, if that were possible.'

    October 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  5. kairos

    The more you insist it isn't a cult, the more people will believe you are a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  6. teake

    Mouw is a liberal theologian!.........ofcourse he will say it's no cult!

    October 9, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  7. tmare

    So all you have to do is start a University? Isn't that like saying once everyone accepts you by the world's standards, you are no longer a cult? I bet Jesus' followers were accused of being in a cult, I guess they should have started a University. The bottom line is that Evangelical Christians have been teaching their followers that Mormonism is a cult for decades. Now they have to back peddle because they can't find anyone else to run for President.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  8. scott

    I now pronounce evangelicals and mormons man and wife. You may kiss each other now.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  9. NoNukesForever

    Don't kill.
    Be nice.
    fuk the stupid people, but still buy them dinner.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  10. urnuts

    First of all, the tablets Joseph Smith dug up were shaker prayer tablets. And, yes, mormonism IS a cult the same way all religions are a cults. It's ludicrous to say that some of the professors at BYU were educated at top IVY league schools and that makes LDS OK. Ted Kaczynski was a prof at UC Berkeley, does that make him sane? I always have to chuckle when someone says, "...well Jesus said..." Wait a minute, no one was there when this guy Jesus supposedly said ANYTHING (actually he never existed folks). The last thing we need is religuous cults running our government...

    October 9, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Mike

      Using your logic, our government has always been run by religious cults, because you said all religions are cults, and all the Presidents have belonged to a religion (I don't think we have had an athiest President yet). So if that's the case, what's the big deal?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • urnuts

      But in the past 20 years, we as a nation have placed a greater emphasis on our President's belief. It should not even be an issue. Heck, we shouldn't even know what religion are president follows. Australia has a lesbian atheist as their president. We're so far behind the times. When our president believes in the rapture and makes decisions based on how he think jesus will take care of us...it's time to woory.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  11. UglyTruth

    Magic underwear.
    Secret sacred names.
    A religion started by a teenage boy.
    Not a cult.
    Just another religion.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • julie

      Yep. And to show the "loving" nature of this religion – just go and wikipedia the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Feel the love!!

      October 9, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • PReading

      Look up the "Hans Mill Massacre" while you’re at it, no wait, those were Mormons being killed so that was ok. After all the state had passed the law that it was ok to do it! At least we hung the leaders of the mob that were involved with the Mountain Meadow Massacre.

      October 10, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  12. dcl

    One of the greatest of GOP red herrings. The country is ready to crack economically and you're talking about this utter crap.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  13. Brooke Willson

    It's intriguing how politically conservative Christian leaders are compromising their theologies to accommodate a potential Republican LDS Presidential candidate. While there are varying theological and sociological definitions of a cult, this much is undeniably true about the LDS: they believe that only faithful Mormons are guaranteed a place in a benevolent afterlife, which is why they've established the world's largest genealogical database to proxy baptize and marry non-Mormons after death; they have secret ceremonies which are not open to non-LDS members; their "scholars," unlike scholars from other religious traditions, are unable to examine the primary texts of their faith because they were written in "reformed Egyptian" hieroglyphics on golden tablets that were taken back to heaven after Joseph Smith's translation of them accomplished by peering through magic rocks; they believe in multiple deities, the God of Earth having become a deity after having been a mortal being on another planet and then was assigned to rule Earth with his deified wife and children; faithful married LDS members have the hope of becoming deities themselves after death, to rule over other planets; LDS members wear sacred underwear with magical properties.

    Mitt Romney may be a fine man, outstanding political leader, and may make a fine President. But if that's not a non-Christian religion and a cult, I can't begin to imagine what is.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Mormon4ever

      The crossing thru the Red Sea was 'magical'? The flooding was a fantasy? The many MIRACLES the Bilble teaches are that! Not MAGICAL events. And, yes we do believe in the Bible & modern revelation. BTW modern revelation is when you, on these days you pray & receive an answer THAT IS modern revelation!
      We do not talk bad about ANYother beliefs/religion, PERIOD.
      http://www.mormon.org

      October 9, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  14. Dave

    I live in Utah. The reverend is wrong. It's a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Ronnie

      I defintily disagree with the reverend! I have also taught seminars on cults and the defintion for a cult is somply a religeon that is founded by man. In the article above the reverend even says that the LDS and the mormon church was founded by Joseph Smith. What does that make it? Chrisitanity is founded by Jesus Christ. In the book of revelations it also says to not add or delete from the Bible or you will recieve allof the curses listed within. I wonder what the Mormons have done? They have murdered the scripture. You also need to check the foundation of ones religeon. Many of the witnesses listed within the Book of Mormon later came back and recanted their stories and said that they made up the sories of the tablets. Also, in the Bible there are places mentioned such as Jereusel, Bethlehem, Israel, etc. All of these places exist as we all know. What about some of the famous battles that supposedly took place in the book of Mormon. They DONT exist!!!!! Where are they??? Also, people that make prophesy are said to be of the devil if they prophesy and make mistakes. The prophesies within the Bible are 100% true and have been proven that they actually came true. Many false prophesies within the Mormon Church have taken place over the years with MANY not coming true. This can go on forever. Reverend, you need to do your homework better before you make such broad stands and look totally foolish!!!!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Mormon4ever

      I also live in Utah. It is a RELIGION.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Ronnie

      Mormon4Ever, did u not read what I wrote? Please read before you comment, and by the way you were right – it is a religeon – a religeous cult that is!!!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  15. Mormons = cult

    I live in Nevada. I know many members of the LDS faith, and it is a cult. Exempting the LDS church from cult-status primarily because it has established a university is a specious argument at best. They demand utter obedience at the risk of being torn from your family in the afterlife. Those who question the faith risk being labeled as apostate. They rip young men from their families to go on a "mission", but with no ability to communicate with their families and tasked with simply recruiting more members to the cult. I've had missionaries at my door and they will not take no for an answer, and will try any angle to get into your house and spin their fairy tales. Their young women are expected to marry as soon as possible once they are in college and encouraged to breed prodigiously. They are totally patriarchal and mysoginistic. And, then, of course there's the garments, the after-life planets and the secret cult-like masonic rituals. I would be terrified to have Mitt Romney as the President making decisions for the country when his utter obedience is pledged to the Mormon church, his actions dictated by its doctrines and covenants and choices directed by the mandates of its Quorum of 12.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Mormon4ever

      I did my homework looking into several religions. Some say the Book of Mormon have fantasy tales. None of us have seen Noah's arc, but I do believe it existed. My oldest son will go on a mission very soon. BTW two more of my sons are also going on a mission. We DO take NO for an answer. Just do the math 53,000 missionaries. That means 53,000 persons answering yes (assuming one per day) multiply that for 2 years = 38,690,000!!! That is only the full time missionaries. All I need was a calculator to prove you're wrong. I don't use the scriptures to fight. I used them to learn about GOD & Jesuschrist.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  16. kimsland

    Look up at the heavens (woops I mean the stars) and lower your head to the son of god (doh! I mean the Sun, its very bright)
    No one can see how these words got mixed up?
    By the way Allah praised the moon.

    Back in the old old days, people had little to do at night except watch the stars. I'd do that too. Its normal.
    This religious part isn't.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It speaks volumes that you have nothing else to do at night but look up at the stars....poor thing.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • kimsland

      Yes you got it. Jesus was SAD
      I cry for you, I cry with tears of laughter.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I think you're drunk or stoned. Maybe both. Probably both. And you're dumb as a box of hair.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  17. julie

    the evangelicals excluding other christians as non-christians is kinda like the muslim traditionalists excluding other muslims as infidels – looks like religions have very similar themes huh?

    October 9, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  18. Reflecto

    Of course it's a cult. They wear magic underwear, think the Garden of Eden is in North America, and their "holy book" was literally pulled out of a hat by some fertilizer salesman.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • julie

      Don't forget how the mormons think that the Native Americans were a lost tribe of Isreal that displeased God and as a result had their skin turned Red as a punishment from God.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Mormon4ever

      http://www.mormon.org

      A prayer will help you. If you are in a religion or not I will NOT say anything bad about it. We just share what we believe it is the true.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  19. HappyAgnostic

    "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."
    Sounds like about 99% of the Evangelicals I've encountered personally; so tell me again how it isn't a cult?

    October 9, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  20. jscmedia

    Yep, the author's description pretty much states the facts. Many members of every single religious group around the world are really just cult members. How's that Kool aide tasting anyway?

    October 9, 2011 at 9:50 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.