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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. Jake

    Don't you love all this religious debate? It's funny how people get all messed up about religion. They say Mormonism is a cult? Yeah right! Mormonism is not a cult. And people think that they're not Christian? Have you ever met a Mormon? They are a lot more Christ-like than other people I know.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Loopy

      Most atheists I know are more Christ-like than either one of them, so what's your point? That doesn't prove Mormonism isn't a cult, and it doesn't prove atheism is a religion.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Stupid

      You're not smart...

      Sorry, just had to point that out.

      Never try to take the LSAT. It won't end well.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  2. Katniss

    Someone needs to tell dumdum up there that Christian Science and Scientology are two different things.

    But, they all sound archaic and ridiculous.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  3. kimsland

    Run children, run as fast as can away from the scary church

    October 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You're afraid of the church? Why? Are you that insecure?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  4. Texanonymouse

    Christians would do well to read their New Testaments and heed Paul's admonitions. Giving atheists gleeful laughs just isn't good for anyone's faith.

    "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another."

    October 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  5. tyfosho

    to be honest, my concern is not that my religion is not considered "Christian" by people who have no more claim to define Christianity than Jimmy Swaggart, as much as my fear the same people will not be able to get beyond their own bigotry and ignorance to nominate the only candidate who can beat Obama and get the economy back on track.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  6. berndog

    after being in the Southern Baptist Church for 30 years, I became a Mormon 2 years ago. I found that more Mormons walk the walk of a Christian then Southern Baptists. The bottom line here is not what faith Mr Romney practices, but what his views are for fixing the mess that this county is in

    October 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  7. RS 12234

    Although the author "studied cults", he did so with the biases of an Evangelist....hardly an impartial judge. Religion has become way too self-serving. Religions become that way for several reasons but fanaticism, self preservation, and economic gain seem to be the main drivers.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  8. Mark Yelka

    The Mormon prophet receives modern revelation from god. The heavens are not closed. Only they know the truth. All else are ignorant. Do as they say or be damned.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • RS 12234

      Then I'll take being "damned" thank you very much.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  9. wikiIeaks

    Jehovah's Witnesses are not a cult. They have a very detailed bible school that is taught within each of their places of worship. This bible education is free and so, no, there is no "university". If you want to know the truth, then studying with Jehovah's witnesses would be a high recommendation. They do not water down the truth, nor add or detract from the word of God. Look at the de

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

      definition of cult... this does not describe Jehovah's Witnesses. They are not secretive and desire all to learn the truth about the one true God and his Son, the Christ.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  10. kimsland

    When your child asks for jesus on a cross necklace
    Know that he/she is a sadist, and very sick minded.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Danel Kim

      1 Cor. 1:18

      For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1Corinthians 1:18

      October 9, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      message, yes. Image, no.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  11. kimmy

    The brainwashed leading the brainwashed.

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

      Yes that is the definition of church

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

      definition of church is a group of people

      October 9, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  12. rich

    mormons believe and are TAUGHT to believe that JESUS is the BROTHER of lucifer (devil).

    they attempt to change the meaning of what lucifer really means
    (see following web link) –

    http://www.lds-mormon.com/lucifer.shtml

    they indicate on this web site that "lucifer" presents a MINOR problem to christianity!

    and they also believe they will make babies
    when they are in heaven as in space babies –

    why so many people believe this is incredible...

    many mormons do not even understand or know what happens inside their own
    church at different levels as they attempt to become more godly so they to
    can make space babies.

    its a cult and the gentleman who wrote this article is off-base in what main-stream
    mormons believe and are taught.

    they are probably some mormons who recogize JESUS for who he is but they
    are still bound by their very own mormon background if they do not acknowledge
    and accept him and their lord and savior!

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

      Yes, only YOU know what God wants, and all hisorical facts about God right? You are the poster child for bigotry. Well done!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  13. the truth

    all religions are cults. a religion is nothing more than a cult that has matured in numbers and acceptance. deal with it.

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

      Religion is the greatest source of evil in the universe.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  14. cindy

    I live in Utah and find Mormons to be very nice people for the most part. However, I believe they are a cult because of what they do in the temple. My parents were both Mormon and told me of the things that were done when they went. They had a ceremony, which has changed now, that they would take their thumb and run it "from ear to ear" and from "breast to navel". They had to promise their lives that they would not speak of what happened in the temple. It is very cultish!

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

      I grew up LDS. It is a cult. The temple ceremony is terrifying. I experienced the throat slitting when I went through (the day I realized I'd been brought up in a cult). If you ask a Mormon about the throat slitting, they'll deny it was ever part of the ceremony. They deny so many things that are supported by their own website.

      I formally resigned from the church in 1998 with the specific request that I be taken off their rolls and not contacted. Every year, I'm contacted as one of their reactivation projects. Every. Single. Year.

      They are a cult. They don't allow people to leave in peace. They don't practice their own articles of faith. They refuse any sort of honest dialogue about their beliefs or practices,either current or former. All they say is "I don't think we teach that..." or "that's anti-mormon" and "if you want to know about Mormons, ask a Mormon."

      My name is Melissa. I was a Mormon. And I will spend the rest of my life regretting that connection.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  15. SavedbyGrace

    Born-again Christians are by Biblical definition & commission, 'evangelicals'. To these it's far more important to win a soul than to win an argument for man...

    The sovereign Lord declares "...before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me." Isaiah 43:10 Friends, this is the primary difference between Mormonism and Christianity. I'm not telling Mormons what they believe...I'm only stating what the LDS Prophets & the D&C teach. God Himself proclaims numerous times throughout the Bible that there is only One God & Creator who is Sovereign over everything seen & unseen.

    To alter the meaning of Isaiah 43:10 from absolute to relative is man's manipulation. I cannot become a God, nor can anyone else – If we get this wrong it doesn't matter what we've gotten right.

    Friends, repent and place your faith, all of it, in the Christ of the Bible alone as your Lord & Savior. God's grace & peace to you...

    October 9, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • kimsland

      Shutup religious fool.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Aren't there some uppity children you need to go kill, Saved?

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

      Kimslad: It's not about religion – It's about a relationship with Jesus Christ...and this has nothing to do with denominations, buildings, or rituals. Sin spearated you from God – The Blood of Jesus covers your sins and restores that relationship. You need only sincerely repent of your sins and place your faith in Christ as your Lord & Savior – He Loves you my Firend and He proved it on Calvary's cross...

      October 9, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  16. ohboy

    I don't care what you think of mormons, their women are hot, all of them, probably healthy life style...

    October 9, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  17. Mark Yelka

    Mormons believe they are the one and only true church. Only they have got it right. It is their job to convert everyone to Mormonism. Even the dead.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  18. Marty Kay Zee

    Why risk your immortal soul supporting a cult member? Pres. Obama is a good Christian father and husband. Jesus is watching you...

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

      Kids, no scary monster is watching you.
      Unless you go to church, since that's where all the pedos congregate

      October 9, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No pedophile would be interested in you, honey. No one else is, either. That's why you're here all the time.

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

      Tom tom tom tom, tom.
      Please no one truly believes tis absurdity religion is insane.

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

      "Kids, no scary monster is watching you."

      You never told them those lies about Santa? Or the tooth fairy sneaking into their room late at night to pay money for the tooth that fell out of their mouth?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      kims, as I said, I'm not great advocate of organized religion, but I'm not as frightened of it as you are. What the h3ll are you so scared of, that you can't live and let live? What a baby you are.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  19. polve

    Its just U.S. Politics.. Romney like any other 'outside the norm' presidential candidate has to be scrutinized. John F, was and defended is faith, Obama is and took it right to his critics.. so Romney needs to do the same. Like Hillary said, " if you can't handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen>

    October 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  20. Logic

    All religions are cults. The mainstream ones have just been more successful in promoting themselves. Christianity was 1st a cult which is why the romans killed jesus (assuming he actually even existed).

    Anyone who integrates their belief in an invisible skydaddy, a bronze age god, into their politics, should not be taken seriously.

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

      Agreed

      October 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • popeye1128

      He existed. Just a socialist hippie of his time.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      My invisible skydaddy can beat up your invisible skydaddy.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
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About this blog

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.