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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

    Religious dogma creates more hate in the world than politics.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  2. Bill

    kimsland, so sorry you don't get it. He died to save you, others,and myself. He knew he would die–it was all part of the big plan. He was sent by God, as part of God to fulfill Old Testament scriptures. The Jews and Romans didn't believe Christ to be God. Read the scriptures and you'll see. Do you have a church to go to? Do you have friends you can go to church with? I'll pray for you.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • kimsland

      That's crazy.
      Jesus lived in the Middle East, these people are still Barbaric, and so are you.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  3. Mark Yelka

    Mormons are right. Everyone else is wrong.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Jena

      Mark , it is your choice!!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  4. Karin

    All religions are cults.
    They dumbify the masses

    October 9, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Wrench

      I agree. To take what this man is saying only a step farther; "to vote for Rick Perry you are promoting the cause of a cult called Christianity." Can't we keep Religion out of politics completely? Oh wait, I forgot; in America they won't vote for you unless you are a person of faith. That right there is a crime.

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

      The masses don't need religion to be dumb. Take a look in the mirror.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  5. DC

    Praise with faint damnation...

    October 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  6. Shocked and awed

    Okay, uhm, you go to the most liberal seminary out there to get a quote about Mormonism. PLEASE, CNN where are your journalistic ethics? As seminary graduate, you picked the worst example of a seminary to represent Christianity.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  7. dave

    the main difference between Christians and Mormons is terminology. we say Jesus is the Son of God and so do Mormons but what they were taught is that Jesus is lucifer's brothers...now they lie about this saying they do not believe that but there are some videos on youtube, even a mormon children's video that shows they do believe Jesus and lucifers to be brothers.
    http://bible-truth.org/jesusbro.htm

    so, since lucifer is a fallen angel, that makes Jesus a angel. Jehovah witness, another cult, teach the same that Jesus is a angel – micheal the arch angel. the Mormons teach wacko doctrines and fables and have their own bible- the book of mormon. the JW cult also has their own Bible. many of their teachings are in conflict with the Bible and one must study them for themselves for there are hundreds of problematic doctrines from Mormons. they are a cult and are deceiving people.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • JustAMormon

      Actually that isn't entirely an accurate assessment. As a Mormon, I can firmly attest that we believe in the divinity of Christ. We do however reject the Nicene description that Christ is the same being as God the Father (Elohim). He, like us (and Lucifer), are children of Heavenly Father. Which would make us ALL brothers and sisters. Christ however, is God's "Firstborn" and his divinity is firmly seated in his position within the Godhead. He is our Savior, and I can say that without reserve. Without HIm Salvation is not possible....

      October 9, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Themagicrat

      Dude. You have never read or heard about the theological scholars and leading religious paragons of the Renaissance arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Be happy there is another cult like yours that believes in Jesus Christ and the Christian bible. A hundred years from now your great grandchildren and theirs will be struggling to survive against Islam and atheism. Time to put aside petty differences between sub-groups that believe in the same basic morality.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Richard

      Dave, I respect your opinion, but your facts are wrong. The Mormons have never denied that Lucifer is the brother of Jehova. They are brothers as are all of us, sons and daughters of God. Lucifer was a fallen angel and therefore was cast from heaven above to earth below where he lays in wait to tempt and decieve us. Jehova was born unto the virgin Mary as Jesus Christ. In his earthly ministry he showed us the way to return unto our Heavenly Father. He took upon him our sins so that we might be saved through faith in him. He is our Savior and Redeemer. The bible (yes the same bible we both believe in) testifies of his earthly ministry and stands as a witness that he lived. The Book of Mormon is another witness of Jesus Christ and testifies that this same Christ of the New Testament is indeed our Savior and the Son of God. I am Mormon and I have accepted the Lord as my Redeemer. It is through both witnesses that I have come to love my Savior with all my heart. As I have accepted him in my life I have felt the burdens of my sins ease from off my soldiers. If anyone reading this wants to know what Mormons really believe, please go to mormon.org and get your answers from the source. I respect people like Dave who try and stand up for the truth, but sometimes they get their imformation mixed up. Please just go to the source. (mormon.org)

      October 9, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Jena

      Dave, keep digging and you might get it correct after a while about Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  8. Robert

    Richard Mouw was proven time and time again that he is neither 1) a top evangelical, nor 2) a faithful theologian of Scripture.

    Seriously.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  9. popeye1128

    All religion is a cult. Talk about an example of the pot calling the kettle black.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  10. Jennifer Beadle

    Its a cult!! Does this character really know any Mormons. They are brainwashed and silly. At least the folks I know. Think Warren Jeffs and the watered down versions of him.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • A mormon

      Warren Jeffs is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and neither are their followers. His church is just as related to the LDS church as baptists are to catholicism, a break off church.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  11. Bill

    Historically Mormons have been considered to be a pseudo-Christian cult, just as the Catholic church is considered a corrupted form of Christianity by most Protestants. Nothing about the doctrine of the Mormon church has changed that would invite a reinvestigation of their status. It should be noted that there are at least 8 branches of Mormonism, some of which are closer to the traditional interpretation of the Bible than others the UTAH branch is the largest and best known but there are others as well.

    I would far rather have a conservative Mormon as president than some of the dingbat left wingers who also say they are Christian. But that does not mean that I agree with them on Biblical issues.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  12. Don Pound

    To Bob in Utah
    A belief in the Holy Trinity? Please find me a verse in the bible which says that the Three are One! There is nothing to that effect. Time to get up to date!

    October 9, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • StandFast

      Is this a trick question? How about Matthew 28:19. 2 Corinthians 13:14. John 8:58 and John 10:38-39

      October 9, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  13. Mark Yelka

    They believe extreme things. Like they are the only ones who know the truth. Everyone else us wrong. U was a member fo over 13 years. I know. They want to remake the world. No diversity. No different opinions. No dignity unless you are a member.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  14. Jamie

    This guy needs to read his Bible. Mormonism will only be considered "Christian" when they refute the false gospel of Joseph Smith and turn to the Holy Bible. As long as they claim that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that his writings (the made up nephites, laminites, etc.) are divine then they are teaching a false gospel. These are not my words just ask the apostle Paul, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." Galatians 1:8

    October 9, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • Themagicrat

      So, the apostle Paul told you (and by you I mean everyone who believes that the Bible is literal, word for word), and I am paraphrasing based on your post – "If any other dude comes along after I leave on my camel, with my 7 wives and 42 concubines, and tells you different than what I did.don't believe him. JC told me man, straight up. Word."

      October 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  15. Nodack

    All religions are man made cults.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • kimsland

      Where's the LIKE button

      October 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It's on your butt.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  16. Ben

    blah blah blah. Mormons do not believe in the deity of Christ. Therefore, they are not Christians; they are a cult. Period. End of discussion.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • Amy

      That's a flat out lie.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • JustAMormon

      I'm a Mormon, and I accept Christ as my Savior.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Themagicrat

      Lol. So your version of Christianity is a Religion (capital letters intended). Anybody else's, which does not agree with perhaps a line from the Bible (once again..blah blah blah), is a Cult. And you see nothing wrong with that world view?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  17. John

    You will never see a Cross at a Mormon church or ever see A Mormon wearing a cross. Ask them Why??????

    October 9, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Amy

      Because they don't want to focus on the death of Christ, but rather his life and his teachings.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Michael

      Because we choose to celebrate the life of the Savior. We know that his death made possible our redemption, and that his suffering on the cross is critical to His plan for us, but we choose to celebrate his life, not the cross that He died on.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Jena

      John! I am a MORMON and I will answer your question. HE LIVES!! this is the reason we do not put up crosses. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He arose from the tumb and HE LIVES! I personally believe that Jesus forgives. He forgave those who put him upon the cross to die and I do not believe that Jesus wants up to remember the cross that he hung from and died on. He wants us to remember the blood that he shed for us but HE LIVES! AND HE FORGIVES!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  18. Debbie

    Maybe not a cult but they are not Christians. They may call themselves Christians but they are not. They are in direct violation of New Testament Scripture. Mormons recognize Christ as do Jews and Muslims. My major problem is not that Romney or Huntsman are Mormon but that all of the candidates are using Christ for personal political gain. They are selling faith to the highest bidder.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Amy

      It's very UN Christian of YOU to tell others what they believe.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Michael

      If Jews and Muslims believe that the only way that a person can be saved is through Jesus Christ, then yes, Mormons believe as they do. But I think that you know that is not true. We believe that only through Jesus Christ can man be saved. Period.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Jena

      Well Debbie, are you a christian? What about the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION OF THE BIBLE that a lot of churches seem to be using now a days. Mormons use the KING JAMES VERSION. It has not been interpertated like every verse in the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION has, and yes we have the BOOK OF MORMON. Have you read it? I HAVE, and I know that it came from GOD. It has nothing but good in it. No man could have written this book. Most people like to listen to what they hear about the Mormons and believe what they hear without investigating it. I have read the complete bible also and they go hand in hand with each other. What better way for God to use a young 14 year old boy that was searching for the truth to bring forth the BOOK OF MORMON. READ, STUDY, SEARCH AND PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. Your prayers will be answered.

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

    "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."
    Actually, that is a sect. A cult is a religious organization which is in tension with societal norms but does not view its self as the only legitimate religion, whereas a sect is in tension with societal norms but sees itself as the one true religion. Many evangelicals and mormons are sectarians.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  20. Jeff

    Mormonism is a cult. If they are not, why not divulge more information of the origins? Looks at the history, Joseph Smith was killed in a gun battle by Federal Authorities because he was a fugitive.

    And... Mormonism was founded in 1830 in upstate New York by Joseph Smith, who said he received the word of God from an angel named Moroni, who guided him to tablets that told the story of the Book of Mormon about an ancient civilization of Israelites sent by God to America. A year later, he was persecuted and forced to flee to the Midwest, where he was killed. His followers then undertook a mass 1,100-mile (1,800-km) migration in 1846-47 to Utah.

    * Mormons have three books of scripture other than the Bible. One is the Book of Mormon, which Mormons believe was translated from golden plates discovered by Smith. Adherents, who do not use alcohol, coffee and tobacco, believe that God speaks through living apostles and prophets such as the church's president, Thomas Monson. Mormons also believe that Jesus visited the Americas after his resurrection and that there is no eternal hell.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Michael

      Pretty crazy stuff huh, Jeff... God talking to prophets. Wow. When has that ever happened????

      October 9, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Themagicrat

      Jeff, nice Wikipedia cut and paste. My question is – how does any of that differ from mainstream Christianity? God speaking through a Prophet? At least Joseph Smith lived during a time that is not so far in the past that we can kind of all laugh together over it. You believe in the Bible, which teaches basically the same thing, only so far in the past, that you accept it for (sorry) Gospel. Its so far in the past that the supernatural aspects are easier to accept. In my opinion, everyone who considers themselves Christian better put aside their differences, stop pretending they are all about peace, and arm themselves against the coming religions was between Christianity and Islam.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Sam

      "Themagicrat," Mormonism differs from mainstream Christianity in many ways. First, most mainstreamers allow you to attend services, not build a big secret temple most can't enter and also not discuss their big secret temple rules. Mainstream Christianity is pretty liberal in comparison. No one is going to excommunicate you for social drinking, dancing or, if male, wearing a beard or mustache. We also are not required to wear special underwear.

      But, first and foremost, in mainstream Christianity, no one is forcing 14 year old girls to unwillingly become their uncles' 4th wife because a "fundie" LDS whack job leader forced them to.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Debbie

      Sam – Mormons hold services at churches all over the place. Every one of them has a sign in front that says "Visitors Welcome". The temple is NOT where we hold our "services" ... so join us at any church on any Sunday you want.
      Most religions will hold you accountable for following the teachings of the faith. One of the tenets of our faith is to refrain from alcohol (and many other addictive chemicals). Dancing and facial hair are new for me... since I attended many church dances as a youth and my brother sports a beard to church every Sunday. Maybe you should check your facts.
      And really, underwear??? If wearing funny underwear is all you got – then GUILTY.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:43 am |
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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.