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. kimsland

    The 3 Rs of religion
    Religion does not belong in our modern world
    Religion is NOT welcome in politics
    Religion is not welcome anywhere.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You're a fake, kims. Really, you're not even plausible.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Bob Thomas

      And I would imagine you would describe yourself as tolerant, open-minded and non-judgmental.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  2. Praise to the Man

    The cult-not-cult question is just semantics. A more relevant question is: are Americans ready for a president who has spent his adult life regularly participating in a secret temple ceremony in which he dresses up white robes with a green apron to cover his groin, solemnly pledges to consecrate everything he has and everything he ever may have (including the powers of the Presidency?) to the Mormon church? Romney has a right to participate in the ritual, but before we elect him president, we have right to understand and debate what promises he has made and what obligations he considers himself to be under.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      Your real question should be "Is that really any stranger than any other belief system?"

      Frankly, I don't feel comfortable with anyone in charge who says that their faith plays a strong role in their life.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • JustAMormon

      While I don't appreciate you making a mockery of what we hold sacred. I do have to say, that his "giving the Presidency" is out of the question.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • JustAMormon

      "Give unto caesar, that which is caeser's"

      October 9, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • Russ

      Romney was the governor of Mass. and I don't believe the people there are any the worse for it. Well, some may disagree about that, but I don't believe his religion intruded into his decisions.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Dustin

      Given the churches rather strict teachings about religious freedom it would be an utter violation of his espoused beliefs to try to use the government for religious gains. So no more danger than anyone else who might or might not abuse the power.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  3. CuddyDan

    When it comes to religion (and Politics) just remember. I'm right and you are wrong. There, se solved those issues.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  4. Bonnie Kimberly

    I I think everyone of the religions are cults . Why anyone buys into your voodoo is a mystery to me. Religion IS the opiate of the masses. You believe and your are content. When we start to question, when we rise up , when we go to the streets we are hippies and kooks and called names worse than that. POWER TO THE PEOPLE NOT CHURCHES!

    October 9, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  5. Kris in AL

    I'm glad the real name of the Mormon church is coming out in discussions and articles....it's...."The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints"........sounds very Christian to me?

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

      Except there are only fools inside

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

      yeah agreed

      October 9, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why? Was it just you and kims? Okay, I agree.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  6. Jeremy

    I know people say that Jesus said to give everything to the poor and follow him but some of these churches are like uber rich

    October 9, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • kimsland

      You go build a huge brick building.
      YES they are all rich from weak minded people

      October 9, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  7. RobT

    So there is a supreme space being who lives on the planet Kolob? Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. But the Mittster's party finds it hard to believe that the gunk we're pumping into the air is impacting our climate? Unbelievable!

    October 9, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  8. Hi

    As was said by someone else:

    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.

    Couldn't have said it better. And yes, i too am a mormon

    October 9, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  9. popeye1128

    All I know is my religion is better than yours and I will kill you if you don't agree. Yes, Christians are guilty too.

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

      Religious christians say everyone who doesn't praise their lord is going to hell.
      They are VERY sick in the head

      October 9, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  10. Ace

    Is Mormonism Christian?


    October 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • kimsland

      None of them are

      October 9, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  11. Name*Blain Cochran

    It's hard to believe the whole bible story. We are to believe that a man born to a virgin was sacrificed because eve took advice from a talking snake. Sounds so plausible. I guess that's why they call it faith.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  12. JonathanS

    Super crazy cult. It might be full of good people but the religion itself, based on its founding beliefs and practices is one of the worst things to attach itself to Christianity. You need to see the movie the God Makers. http://www.archive.org/details/God_Makers

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

    My daughter of 4 is in her bed and I will initiate her in the Mormon religion right now. My three wives and two sons also will participate. The social workers will not stop me. We are in America.

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

      Go to hell (if such a place was real)
      And stop molesting your kids

      October 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • JustAMormon

      You are sick, and need help.

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

      This bigoted statement shows ignorance. Do you consider yourself educated and tolerant? Do you know any Mormons personally that behave this way?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  14. Colin

    Which of the following is a silly story only a naïve child would believe and which is a cherished religious belief of the Mormon faith?

    Harry Potter stared into the big black hat. Inside were magic gold tablets – which nobody else would ever see- which told Harry the secrets of the Universe, of life, death and the afterlife. They explained to him how, if he wore certain magic underwear, he would be protected from evil spirits in this life and in the end times; and

    Joseph Smith stared into the big black hat. Inside were magic gold tablets – which nobody else would ever see- which told Joseph the secrets of the Universe, of life, death and the afterlife. They explained to him how, if he wore certain sacred underwear, he would be protected from evil spirits in this life and in the end times.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  15. Wastrel

    It sounds as if Mr. Mouw would say that Islam is a cult. I'd like to see CNN print that article.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  16. hh

    All religions are "cults". Some (not all) of their adherents consider themselves superior to others because of their fanatical and infantile belief that they are somehow special, chosen, or enlightened. As the bumper sticker says "Please God, save me from your followers!"

    October 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  17. Ace

    Do tell. How about we get all of the facts first and then make our own informed decisions.


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

      How about you just ask us directly what we believe. Or go to lds.org. A more accurate portrayal.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • TERRA

      Like the author of this article seems to be saying: Why can't we focus on the things we agree on, the things we ALL want? I do not care if Mit Romney is a Mormon; I am not going to vote for him because of his political ideology. May God bless you, i truly mean this.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  18. Lego Dude

    Blah Blah Blah

    Are people really getting so bent out of shape about this?

    October 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  19. popeye1128

    Just remember you shellfish eaters are unclean.

    October 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  20. Qularkono

    as for Roman Catholics ... their leadership continues to talk nicely ... but their doctrine still holds that all protestants are anathema ... as proclaimed by their Pope. That means that their official belief is that all protestants are cursed by God and going to Hell for eternal punishment. Vatican II did not change that teaching and thus upholds it.

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

      Oh, please. Don't be part of the hatred. Tridentines (Vatican I, or Sedevacantists, of which I am proud to be a member), believe protestants are going to purgatory, then will be judged by God, just like me. I am forbidden to attend, pray with, or otherwise associate with on a religious level, a non-Tridentine. However, last time I looked, God wasn't a Tridentine, a Buddhist, a Jew, or a Muslim. He told us to "love one another, even as I have loved you". I'd like to focus on that as a goal for my life. I do not want to see politics mixed with religion; we have separation of church and state for a very good reason.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:07 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.