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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. airfun

    it's not religion..
    it's politic..
    and politic equals to bulls***t
    mormon is a cult

    October 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  2. Steve

    The Evangelicals who claim that Mormons are not Christians use an exclusionary definition of Christian: "You are only a Christian if you believe in Christ the way I believe in Christ. A Christian is a person who accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and seeks to follow his teachings and commandments. Mormons do, and thus they are Christians.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Yesimamormon

      Agreed

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

      you are absolutely right ... read the words of Christ ... he too is exclusionary and has the absolute right to be so.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • 54Him

      Ex-Mormon here... Mormon's are not biblical Christians and as such are not Christians at all. The Jesus they believe in is not the Jesus of the bible. So much extra-biblical garbage about who Jesus was from Mormonism, what he did and what he means to them that they don't even know what it means to a biblical follower of Christ. Ask a Mormon which heaven following Jesus gets them into. That's right, multiple heavens and to get to the best heaven, the one where you get to become a God yourself, you have to put your faith in the Mormon Church – not in Jesus. Sound the the Jesus you read about in the bible? Nope. Wolf in sheep's clothing.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • TERRA

      Paul said "...if you confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved..." He also said "...if even an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have laid down, let him be accursed..." Moroni gave Joseph Smith a gospel different from those in the Bible. You decide. I myself am a Tridentine; we are called a cult more often than I care to admit. However, the job of Judge of the universe is taken, and I do not have it. And in the end, I want mercy, not justice. How about you?

      October 9, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  3. Ken

    Wow, it is amazing how many weirdos are out there with their own ideas and interpretations of someone else's religion! It is also amazing that there are thousands of religious sects on the planet and yet The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints draws more attention than any other one and even more than every other one put together? Why? Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the Lord's restored Gospel on this planet and that fact alone will stir up all those who are influenced by the father of lies – Lucifer. So just remember when you are critical of the Lord's true church, you have a partner who also hates us. The only difference is that he knows it and he has many of you to thank for helping him to fulfill his mission. For those of you who are actually serious about knowing what our beliefs really are go to http://www.mormon.org.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • kimsland

      Mormon sounds morbid
      I don't like it.
      Please change your name (again) to Happy dumb dumb people.

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

      1. You aren't helping your cause at all by preaching.
      2. The reason the LDS church is picked on in the US, and not small religious sects should be pretty obvious. The fact alone that it is here in the US is enough, but then you can throw in all the FLDS shenanigans, with Warren Jeffs, etc...

      October 9, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Ken

      Hey Mike, I'm sorry that you can't handle the truth – you called preaching. Are you enjoying all the lies about our doctrine? Have you said anything to the posters about that? I didn't think so.
      Secondly, it is not just recently that our church has been a major target. The FLDS thing has absolutely nothing to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints but our many detractors (who know better) like to bring that up so unsuspecting people try to connect them with us. This is exactly what Lucifer and those whom it influences would like people to think.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  4. chrisg

    Just look at all the violence the christian religion has caused in the past and is causing NOW. What do you think these christians should consider? CHRISTIANS, YOUR WAY IS NOT THE ONLY WAY!! As soon as you realize that the better off you will be.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Mike

      The same can be said about Judaism and Islam, what's your point?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  5. chrisg

    Just look at all the violence the christian religion has caused in the past and is causing NOW. What do you think these christians should consider? CHRISTIANS, YOUR WAY IS NOT THE ONLY WAY!! As soon as your realize that the better off you will be.

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

    Kids you CAN watch Harry Potter, it is fiction just like your religious beliefs.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Mike

      I'm not religious at all, but what goes does a comment like this do?

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

      If you want any degree of respect for your opinions, show respect for others' opinions whether you agree or not. You are no better than a fanatic religious zealot going around spouting scripture and damnation to everyone - you are the opposite end of the spectrum belief-wise but just as extreme and ignorant.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  7. TJeff1776

    The Southern Baptist, as is the case with the Rev. Jeffress, uses the 'cult" name as a slur. The Southern Baptist did the same with John Kennedy- but to no avail. The Mormons have Joseph Smith who saw God and His Son. Constantine caused the endorsement of the Catholic Church by seeing a Cross in the sky labelled "By this sign shall ye conquer". Back in the 1800s, ALL Protestant(derived from the word "protest") Churches sent other denominations to hell for being "cults". I don't know where-of-late all this so-called unity is coming from. I guess its a stand off. Don't bite on me and I'll not bite on you......except for certain denominations. The bottom line IS- its a money thing. Mormons will preach to anybody that will listen. BUT many Protestants call that "sheep stealing"- money out of their pockets.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  8. Mike

    As much as I'm against a lot of the beliefs of the LDS Church, it isn't a cult. According to Wikipedia, there are 14,131,467 members of the church. That alone is against the definition of a cult. Just because you don't agree with what they do, doesn't mean they are a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  9. STR

    Mormonism is a cult.
    Roman Catholocism is a cult.
    Mainstream Protestants are in a cult.
    Anyone who believes in the trinity is in a cult weather they know it or not.

    [Jesus prayed]
    "This is eternal life that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ who you have sent."
    John 17:3
    If you do not acknowledge that the Father is the one true God as Jesus does – you are in a cult.
    There are 100s of verses like this that the trinitarians have to ignore to hold onto the trinity.

    I am a born again Bible beleiving Christian.

    Please tell me one scripture that specifically teaches the trinity that God is three persons.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      That's right. Everyone else is crazy except for you.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • other dave

      In the same chapter that you are quoting Christ prays that his apostle will be one with Christ as Christ is one with the Father. Not the same person but united in the same purpose. Godhead consists of 3 separate individuals united in a common goal to save mankind.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Big Hoof

      Bible Believing Christian? According to John 17:3 it says.And this is Life Eternal that they might know thee(1.Father)the Only True God, and Jesus(2) whom thou(Father again) has sent. If you look very closely there are two separate Beings here(Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus)
      The third one is the Holy Ghost. Jesus had to go in order for the Holy Ghost to be there and testified about the Father and Christ..

      October 10, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  10. ConfucianScholar

    Those who say Mormons are cult followers talk out of ignorance.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  11. WOT

    Please read the history of the LSD before you judge them! Are there any Black LSD's.

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

      Did you mean LDS, or is that a Freudian slip?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Mike

      True, there are many African American and black LDS members. The sad thing is that it was just 1978 when African Americans were allowed to join the priesthood.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • tom

      I'd like to ramp this up a few notches...lay off the Mormons for a second...how could 1 billion people follow ROMAN CATHOLICISM??? Let's be serious for a moment – because this is NOT funny. Roman Catholicism is a BIGGER cult than Mormonism!!!

      Please – I beg you – watch EWTN for 10 minutes. I'll be labeled the crazy one for saying this but you can't turn on the TV without seeing a prominent Roman Catholic (Coulter, Hannity, O'Reilly – not to mention politicians...) and ROMAN CATHOLICISM is INSANE and everyone that is not RC knows it. Again – I BEG YOU – watch EWTN – even for 5 minutes.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Big Hoof

      What is LSD?Or you meant LDS?Which one?

      October 10, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  12. chg

    Pretty hilarious all the arguments between religions about which ones are cults or not cults. News Flash: YOU ARE ALL CULTS!

    October 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  13. TheAlaskaCurmudgeon

    "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."

    Well, sir, you have just described the beliefs of Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, and Pat Robertson, as well as every evangelical Christian I have ever met.

    Sorry, Mr. Mouw, but this essay contains some of the most brazen Orwellian double-talk I've ever encountered.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  14. mike from iowa

    Religion is a mental disease.

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

      Yes!

      October 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  15. kimsland

    Shutup jesus

    October 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • RAYMOND A HEDLEY

      HOPE YOU HAVE THE BALLS TO SAY THAT WHEN YOU STAND BEFORE – AT THE WHITE THRONE – SEE YOU AT JUDGEMENT DAY – I HOPE YOU REPENT YOUR WAY – CAUSE JESUS LOVES YOU – THAT WHAT THE "PASSION OF THE CHRIST" WAS ABOUT – SEE AGAIN!!!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • kimsland

      As I clearly said already. Shutup jesus.
      Jesus is stoopy and so are you
      I think I'd like to spit on him.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  16. mike from iowa

    MORMONISM IS A CULT. CHRISTIANITY IS A CULT. CATHOLICISM IS A CULT. JUDISM IS A CULT. MUSLIMISM IS A CULT. You are all a bunch of sick, twisted sociopaths.

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

      what definition of cult are you using?

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

      Well said! They are all cults....

      October 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • RAYMOND A HEDLEY

      YOUR RIGHT – BUT WHERE DO YOU STAND WITH JESUS CHRIST? HE'S THE ONLY ONE YOU DEAL AFTER THIS LIFE – THE CULTS – HAVE NOTHING TO SAY IN THE MATTER!!!!!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Big Hoof

      VERY INTERESTING!!!!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  17. Qularkono

    Excuse me .... Mormon teaching says that Jesus was a creature created by God and was "good enough" to become devine. And, that all the souls of all people are just waiting in heaven to be born so that they too can be born on earth and go through the process. And that there will be new "Jesuses" that will create new universes and the cycle will continue. That is not teaching Jesus Christ the second person of the trinity. Now, are there Mormons that don't understand the teachings of their leaders ... probably and we pray that they will be converted to true Christianity.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Big Hoof

      You are now talking about things beyond your undertanding. You can not identify three Heavenly Separated Beings when Christ got baptized.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  18. SC

    Think about it... do you *really* think that Jesus, or Joseph Smith, were more than just human beings?

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

      yes as proven by Jesus Christ's not being held by death when he was resurrected ... with over 500 eyewitnesses.

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

      Only one account mentioned the 500 eyewitnesses. But, that was not actually even an eyewitness account in itself. And you consider this proof?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • jo an

      No...Jesus and Joseph were humans just like you and me....no better nor worse. What is wrong with 'JUST' being human...can't think of anything more AWESOME...All religions are 'cults'...some do good things and others do evil. WE ARE ALL ONE!!! Today is John Lennon's birthday...he got it with his song...'IMAGINE'....Great words...

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

    I'm a Mormon. Its funny that people get so bent out of shape because of religion. I mean, I dont go bashing on other people's faiths. While I may not agree with other faiths, I still very much respect them.

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

      Why would you respect their religions if you believe they are false?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Ken

      Loopy, your name suits you! lol You respect others in their rights to believe in whatever they want to belief in. The great majority of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have belonged at one time or another to another church. We respect them and their churches for the honorable things that they are trying to accomplish given the knowledge that they have. Many of us have left our churches of birth (not out of a whim but by much sincere prayer) in order to progress further spiritually. This was due to the restored doctrines that were available in the LDS church. I have never regretted this decision in the 23 years I have been a member. It is the Lord's true church here on earth. http://www.mormon.org

      October 9, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  20. mcalleyboy

    When you live overseas and you never see another white person except in the grocery stores or walking down the street with the white shirts and dress pants you know you are surrounded by Mormons, they also will not openly engage in conversation, this is an odd behavior and it's practiced overseas, from one American to another you guys suck and are morons.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:31 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.