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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. Mike in SA

    Nicely stated.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  2. gbs

    I'm a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints. I consider this among the greatest blessings of my life.

    If you want to know what we really believe, it's easy to get it straight from the horse's mouth. Twice a year our Church holds "General Conference" where leaders of church teach and testify of Christ. Their messages are broadcast throughout the world in 93 different languages. Three ways to find out what Mormons are all about:

    1) Check out the archives of our semiannual General Conferences at this website: http://lds.org/general-conference/conferences?lang=eng.

    2) Check out http://www.mormon.org: There are thousands of profiles where normal members of the church, like myself, have posted how we feel about Jesus Christ. Also plenty of links to the church's teachings on every imaginable topic.

    3) Ask your Mormon friend/neighbor/co-worker what they believe.

    Better to drink closer to the head of the fountain... things can get a little murky downstream.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  3. Jay

    Guess what people – they are all cults. Just because your cult is the most popular in the land doesn't make it any less of one.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Ricky Talwar

      If they're all 'cults,' Jay, then not just all Christians but all Atheists (capital 'A') are a cult too. . . . followers of any set of beliefs can be labeled as a cult, or upgraded to a religion. It depends on where you stand.

      October 10, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  4. John

    Why don't you all try PRAYING about the LDS religion?

    October 9, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  5. Kate65

    "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". Sounds like Pentacostals/Evangelicals and my aunt Betty ("there is only one way to Heaven"), whom I love dearly even though I think of her as a religious bigot.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  6. sugoivols

    Just another show of how FTS is trying to take doctrine and throw it out the window in order to produce harmony among groups that call themselves Christian. Mormons on the other hand have been trying to align themselves with Protestants for years now.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  7. Red79

    Religion is a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  8. Kyle Overboard

    "Joseph Smith and the Seer's Stones."

    ...has NASA found Kolob yet? Or did it move again?

    October 9, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Mormon4ever

      If you depend on google search only, well keep seaching google 'till you find out. The other way Google can't help you is PRAYING. That has to done by you that is not an alectronic task. Seriously.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  9. Jake

    I'm suprised that there is such a big debate over this. It seems like around 70% of the posts on here are incorrect. You people need to do your research a little better. Might I suggest mormon.org? That is their OFFICIAL website. I dont know where you all get your information from, but its all wrongs.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  10. ThirstyJon

    Mouw says this: "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."

    There are two ways that we use the word cult. One way is in terms of sociology. It refers to groups with controlling leaders, isolation, etc. The other way we use the word is to refer to a group claiming to be Christian whose theology is not within the scope of historic Christian teaching.

    Mormonism might not be a "cult" from a sociological point of view, but it most certainly is one from a theological point of view.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  11. rudy

    catholics are not originals tony they came latter on with gregory the great look it up...anabaptist are oc s

    October 9, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  12. Jon

    I disagree. It depends on how you define cult. True followers of Jesus Christ define a cult by those that reject major fundamental doctrines. Mormons deny many major doctrinal issues, as do Catholics(which is the largest CULT in the World).... They deny scripture as the only authority; Christ as the ONLY way.
    Faith, grace and Christ alone does not conform to their satanic religious systems... Myself, as well as other true followers of Christ define Mormonism as a cult. Go take your advanced degree Dr. Mouw and burn it... for it is meaningless. Read your bible, and by the way.... Lets just say it is not a cult. It still does not change that it is a false religious system that leads people straight down the wide path to Hell.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • greg

      Mormons don't believe that scripture is the only authority, they believe that God is the only authority.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      You see how the dude caught himself saying father son and holy ghost?? That goes against mormon belief he was trying to make romney look good but he just accentuated the fact that they dont believe in a triune God!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  13. J

    Mormons are not Christians. The criminal, Joseph Smith, was a con man and a liar, and his mormon religion is in fact a cult. They worship a made up Jesus, and a made up God. Everything in the mormon "scripture" is false, and not one shred of archaelogical evidence supports it. It is a lie straight from hell.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • John

      Indeed

      October 9, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • peick

      Thanks for sharing the gentleness and humilityof Christ.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • DLC

      I hate to tell you but all religion is made up.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • ?????

      Sure mormon beliefs are a little crazy, but J, why so much hate? Your religion is just as absurd.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Mormon4ever

      According to you hate church/beliefs is OK? I'l vote for Obama anyway.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  14. cbcard

    Richard Mouw says "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." That sounds very much like the thought process of many Evangelical Christians who feel that if you aren't one of them you are evil and going to hell.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Bill

      CBCard you are absolutely wrong. I am a born again Christian and a evangelical. We do NOT believe that people who dont believe exactly like we do are evil. And as for going to hell, that has zero to do with whether or not you are an evangelical.
      Now, I'll be honest, I believe that those people who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are going to heaven .... where non-believers go?? I really dont know. But to say Evangelicals have an "us. vs. them" mentality is false. A few loud moths dont represent us.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  15. Donovan

    It's funny that Mormonism is being called a cult. Out west, there are Mormons everywhere. They are no more of a cult than any other religion.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  16. popeye1128

    I'm truly amazed how adults believe any of this. Children believing in fantasy is one thing but adults? Of course the media feeds it with shows about dead people talking to the living and such.
    I've personally never felt anything beyond the here and now.
    Please begin the sympathy and anecdotal comments now.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  17. John

    Four of the seven witnesses who claimed to have seen the famous golden tablets ascend into heaven recanted their stories shortly after Joseph Smith's death.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • greg

      While some may have left the church, they never recanted their testimonies.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • popeye1128

      What were they all smoking?

      October 9, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  18. Terri

    Hi this is a serious question for any Mormons is a-nal or or-al s-ex ok, or is it against the beliefs of the church? Im not being disrespectful I just dont know if its so-domy that you cant do cause its a sin or if its ok? Please anybody?

    October 9, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • steve

      I'm a mormon, and i dont know the answer to that question. I would suggest checking mormon.org.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Terri

      Does anybody know? It's pretty important!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  19. Rocinante

    Everyone read mormon com.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  20. Tony

    All I have to say is Catholics are the OC of Christians. Original Christians...

    October 9, 2011 at 11:06 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.