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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. Randy

    They've made not just changes to the Bible, but significant changes. Revelation says that's a big no-no. If you delve into the details of Mormonism, you'll see that they are nowhere near mainstream Christianity.

    It's a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • FormerMormon

      A CULT is a religion or sect that is generally considered to be unorthodox, extremist, or false; On the surface, Mormonism is a Christian faith, however, it's not really biblical or mainstream. Their teachings depart from mainstream Christianity in many ways such as 'God was once a Man' or 'A man can become a God'. This is where the divide begins with other Christian groups who ground their Christian theology in the Bible. Mainstream christians believe in One God – Not many gods. Their faith is first in Christ - NOT the denomination. They are baptized to Christ, NOT to a church membership. Christians will accept Baptisms from other mainstream denominations, Mormons will not.
      Mormon apostasy means a Mormon denounces their church membership. Biblical Apostasy means a mainstream Christian denounces belief in Jesus Christ. Salvation for a Mormon is dependent on the church. Salvation for a mainstream Christian comes directly from Christ. It does not matter what church a mainstream Christian attends as long as Biblical Christianity is taught.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  2. john

    The right of a father to love a naked daugther is a glorious cause of our fight as mormons and we will win.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • JustAMormon

      You are not a Mormon, and are just a Troll

      October 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  3. 1man

    All religions are a cult. Yes even you jesus lovers. All religion is a danger to the world. Why do people believe in fairy tales they know can't be true? Religion of of all types are bad for humanity. They divide people and people die because of it.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Khw

      I would differ and say it's the devil that divides and not God. If you would stop in your life and believe what God says in the bible (without adding religion) you would see that its not true "born again Christians" who divide but the man behind the scenes "blinding the eyes of them that believe not"

      October 9, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  4. Joe D.

    It seems to me that every religion claims it is right and the others are wrong, but maybe God is big enough to be found in more than one way. The search for a relationship with God is a personal, and very individual one, and not everyone from every culture will find the same way of approaching it. As a Christian I do not always agree with every tenet of my chosen church, but that does not mean I dismiss them all. If Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Islamists, and others are in a genuine search for God, I believe He will make Himself known to them. For men to put limits on what God does or does not accept is like an ant wanting to put limits on the size of the universe – futile and self-centered.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  5. mcalleyboy

    Mormonism is a CULT, I can prove it: I live overseas and in the grocery stores and other area's outside church or those guys walking the streets they don't speak to anyone, that is fact and it is actually taught and they are constantly drilled for this.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Kristina

      Silliest statement of the day. What guys are you even talking about? Mormons generally? Mormon missionaries? I am Mormon myself and don't recall ever being "drilled" or even told not to talk to anyone. Sorry.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • popeye1128

      I just choked on my soda. That's hilarious! Grocery stores and streets, I love it.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  6. Virologist

    I think calling Mormonism a "cult" has been unhelpful. When most evangelicals call Mormonism a cult, they mean they believe the religion is false. Most religions are exclusive. They believe that their belief is the only true belief. It means they disagree, and does not necessarily mean they hate or disrespect those of other faiths. While Mormons consider themselves Christians, historically nearly all other groups identifying as Christian reject Mormonism as a form of Christianity. The rejection of Mormonism isn't new. The recent acceptance of Mormonism by other Christian groups is unusual. Mormonism is polytheistic, has different ideas about Satan, salvation, Christ, afterlife, revelation, sacred text, and history. The religion is about as distant from Christianity as Islam (which also shares many of the core beliefs and stories of Christianity). However, many Mormons argue that any faith system where Jesus Christ plays a central role, like Mormonism, is Christian. It is pure semantics weather or not they are called "Christian." It does not change the fact that they are theologically distant from all other self-identified Christian groups.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Kristina

      Mormons are not polytheistic my friend. They worship one and only one God. They believe that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are distinct beings but they do not worship anyone but God.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • JustAMormon

      Our worship is entirely directed towards the Father, just as Christ said, "Pray always unto the Father in my name."

      If you must make a distinction, the correct term would be to say that Mormons are "Monolatrous." =)

      October 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  7. katmoondaddy

    They aren't Christian. They've added to the Bible which is prohibited in the last passage of Revelations. It's called the Book Of Mormon and they hold that with much more reverence than the Bible itself.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • JustAMormon

      Historically, you do realize that Revelation was written BEFORE the Gospel of John. So by that logic the Gospel of John is also an "addition" to the Bible. Furthermore that passage was written before the Bible was compiled, so it's obvious that John is only making reference to the Book of Revelation... =)

      October 9, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  8. Name*Blain Cochran

    All religions are a cult! They Are used to control people.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  9. JustAMormon

    I'm a Mormon. I believe in Christ as my Savior. (I say that fully and without reservation) We DO believe in modern miracles, and modern revelation and prophecies. We DO NOT believe that everyone who rejects Mormonism will "be damned." In fact we have (in my opinion) a rather glorious concept of the hereafter. We believe that ALL men and women will be judged upon the light and knowledge they receive. Along those lines, we believe that everyone will have an opportunity (probably several) to accept Christ, in this life or in the next.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  10. Beth

    I don't think that the Mormon church is a cult either, but they definitely are not Christian. If they want to call themselves Christians, they are need to have a radical overhaul of their doctrine.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Ken

      Why would they want to overhaul the doctrines that were provided to them by the Savior? Why are the doctrines of supposedly "Christians" so different if they are all utilizing only the Bible as their sole spiritual guidance? That tells me that man has been taking a lot of liberty in interpreting what the Bible actually says. It only follows that if man is distorting the many truths of the Bible and twisting them to suit themselves, then many of the intended doctrines of Christ have been lost. If not, there would be only ONE true Christian Church. If you study the Joseph Smith story, you will learn that he DID NOT want to start any new church but wanted to know what the true church was. Very honorable for a young man of 14 years. You could go to http://www.mormon.org for The Rest of The (true) Story. One of things you will find is that the Book of Mormon clarifies and supports the Bible and the INTENDED teachings of Christ whole-heartedly!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  11. HerToTellTheTruth

    Ok, so has anyone on here even thought to look at the religion of other US presidents who were associated with Jehovah's Witnesses? Dwight Eisenhower. Google it.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Beth

      I did google it, and apparently, he was a Presbyterian.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  12. katmoondaddy

    Nahh! Everyone should wear secret underwear!

    October 9, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  13. Jake

    LDS people are a lot more Christ-like than other people I know. Why would people think that they're not Christian? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? Sure sounds Christian to me.

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

      Religious people (and the LDS) are NOT christian.
      They are evil and abusive to children

      October 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Steve

      Abusive to children? Doubt that.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • JustAMormon

      @kimsland I think you are thinking of the FLDS (fundamentalist) Mormons. These do NOT represent Mormonism as a whole!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • cindy

      Haha! You obviously aren't very educated when it comes to traditional Christian theology. Mormons believe in many Gods. Christians believe in one. The Mormon concept of Christ is not grounded in biblical teachings. No where in the bible does it say that a man can become a God as well as God was once a man. It is a radical departure from the rest of the Christian world.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Kristina

      Cindy, Mormons do not believe in multiple Gods. They believe in and worship one God and only one God, and this is God the Father as spoken of in the Bible. There is also no official belief in Mormon doctrine that God was once a man. Unfortunately it is people like you in forums like this who continue to perpetuate inaccuracies and who cannot be fair or reasonable enough to go seek out the truth.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  14. Boughtwell

    Mormons fit the definition of a cult from their behavior and interference in the daily social lives and choices of their followers. They divide areas into Wards and their Bishops assign and dictate what specific church they will attend, how much money they will take from their income and assign how much volunteer work they will perform for the church. Also marriage ceremonies are not open to non-Mormon family or friends and excommunicated Mormons are shunned by family still in the church.

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

      They also where special underwear for "spiritual babies" youtube it.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • Ken

      This is totally scary! Almost totally false statements about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints! I would like to know where you get your information from? Please go to http://www.mormon.org for a lot more accurate description of our doctrines and beliefs. When you study, pray and understand them clearly you will quickly realize that the doctrines of the LDS church make a lot of sense – and it should because it comes directly from the Lord. Have a great day!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  15. Loopy

    You can have a very, very detailed mythology, but that doesn't make it true. If detailed mythology were the only criteria, the Lord of the Rings would be true.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  16. feedingfrenzy

    Mouw says when speaking of cults "Their adherents are taught to think that they are the only ones who benefit from divine approval."

    Well wouldn't that make Christianity a cult? After all, Jesus said "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6

    October 9, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  17. popeye1128

    This forum is funny. Are you people serious? OMG. All this talk about assuming what a god thinks if there really is one. How presumptuous of ANY religion.

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

      I read religious topics for the humor.
      I come here to laugh at the religious nut jobs.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I come here to laugh at illiterate dolts like you.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Ken

      Very interesting Mr. Poopeye, wonder if there is God? and you preface that with OMG? Seriously? You have a lot of credibility don't you? Probably eating too much Spinach – lots of brawn but no brains. lol

      October 9, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  18. Simon

    I love the magnanimity of President Mouw that chastises someone for degrading the LDS as a cult yet can't resist suggesting it's okay to dismiss Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Christ Scientist. Oddly, he didn't pick on Scientology.
    So much for religious pluralism. "Churches" of all sorts just cannot resist throwing stones. Short memories all of them.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  19. The Truth

    ALL RELIGIONS ARE CULTS!

    Let's take a step back and carefully think about this...

    A man died and came back to life 3 days later. Really?
    Some cathedrals have bones of dead people behind glass and prisoners pray to the bones. Really?
    This lunatic, Jeffress, who called Mormons a cult tells his followers that the US will be cursed by god if we elect a non-Christian. Really?

    How can any of you who believe in Christianity (or any religion for that matter) call Mormons a cult when the things you believe are equally ridiculous?

    YOU ARE ALL IGNORANT!

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

      You my friend are a bigot!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • YES

      Couldn't agree more!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  20. Anderson

    All religions are cults.
    Some are more mainstream than others.
    Some are more popular than others.
    Some are more dangerous to outsiders than others.
    Some are more dangerous to followers than others.

    But they definitely are all cults, it's simply what the definition of the word cult is.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:23 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.