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. Ryan

    Who cares if you call it a cult or not? Do we want someone in the white house that follows their belief system? It wasn't until 1978 that black people were allowed into their temple or were allowed into their priesthood. How old was Romney when this took place? How did he feel about it? God doesn't flip flop on these types of issues. The bible teaches that we are all his children but for some reason the mormon's have not always believed this. If you are a christian and its important to you, you should vote for a christian.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Matt

      Well, let's not elect any so-called "christian" Presidents then. After all, they committed the atrocities of the crusades, Spanish inquisition, and the Salem Witch Trials. God doesn't change his mind, right? Personally, I reserve the right to get smarter over time, and think organized religion is allowed to as well (though it often chooses not to). Otherwise, I guess we're all voting for Mike Bloomberg in 2012.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Mark

      The bible endorses slavery, which we now recognize as immoral. This begs the question, is an action moral because God says so, in other words, where does God get his morality? He's been wrong in the past, such as on the issue of slavery, which would mean he's fallible. Why should we blindly follow an authoritarian figure, who advocates immoral actions.

      Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT on Slavery
      However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  2. popeye1128

    I honestly think all religious 'visions' are due to drugs or mental schisms. Psychotic drugs/plants were actually more prevalent two thousand years ago.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  3. TheGarderner

    Hush, just zip it up will ya evangoloco-mormono? You're all cults.You created the god(s) with criminal intent. Who the hec was Joseph Smith? was he the guy who screwing around with younger and killed in a gunfight duel? and who the hec was Jesus? was he the guy who did not even exist? Ding the ding, dong the dong, will ya?

    October 9, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  4. Jake

    GO BYU!!!! BOOO U of U

    October 9, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  5. Tante Waileka

    The mormon church IS a cult, and Richard Mouw is not a Christian, that is obvious from his article. Either you are a Christian, or you are not. It's a simple as that. The Mormon church as slowly been changing what it 'says' it believes, but until recently they NEVER said that Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They ALWAYS referred to him as 'a prophet'. It's is very saddening to see how stupid americans are getting. God WILL judge you. Mormonism IS a cult. There is only one true inspired Word of God and it is called THE BIBLE, not the 'book of mormon.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Ken

      Christianity is a cult too.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Chad

      Not true! The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints has always worshiped Jesus as the son of God and Savior of the world, not as just a prophet. You are misinformed, and worse you are bearing false witness.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Pamela Parizo

      Tante: You are so right, and Richard Muow is ignoring the fact that despite Mormonism's attempts at being mainstream, and "world class" and their talk of Jesus as their Lord and Savior, their core beliefs contradict the 1st commandment and just about anything else we know of God from the Bible.

      They believe that God the Father was a man at some point, and was capable of sinfulness (ask a Mormon that one). They believe that we are capable of becoming a God, and that there are multiple Gods. This contradicts the BIBLE. They also believe that mostly everyone except for the most evil, are going to a level of heaven, and that man can receive salvation posthumously through proxy baptism by a relative.

      I know, because I am an ex-Mormon, and happy of it.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  6. Hogwash

    The Book of the Mormon's "history" of the lost tribe of Israel in the America's has been proven through DNA evidence to be utterly untrue (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GF_SxbPLb0). Does America want a President unwilling to believe scientific facts that discount his own religion?

    October 9, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Chad

      That is like saying the Big Bang THEORY has utterly been disproven by religion. Your Science is more inconclusive than you claim and as soon as the truth comes out you'll just say it was a theory all along. Remember when Scientists thought the Earth was flat.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  7. Terry

    Sorry, it is a cult. We had a friend who fell in love with a Mormon and her family said it could not continue until he joined the Mormon Church and served two years in Mormon Mission. When he came back home, he was like a zombie. We lost our good friend to a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  8. Wisconsin Man

    Wow. I just read through some of these other posts after writing my previous reply. I am astonished to see such bigotry among my fellow posters. Astonished. Have you really been studying the Bible? Can you honestly say you study the Bible and still act like this? Have you not read: "By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," or "this is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor AS THYSELF." Do you guys really consider YOURSELVES Christian? Amazing. Guys. These are not the Dark Ages anymore. Think before you post. Stop being hypocrites. Please study a little more thoughtfully before throwing narrow-minded conclusions around.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Tante Waileka

      Being Born Again and believing that Jesus Christ is one's Lord and Savior and that The Bible is the only inspired Word of God is not 'bigotry' or 'narrow-minded'. You are a lost soul and NOT a Christian. God gave us Free Will, but YOU have not read the Bible from a Believer's perspective but from a follower of the devil's perspective. We will pray for you and all the other lost souls... that God may call you to Him before it is too late for you.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Wisconsin Man


      Are you being serious?

      Did you not just read what I wrote?

      October 9, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Wisconsin Man

      I said nothing of Christianity as being "Narrow-minded." I spoke of mindless criticism without studying things out as narrow-minded. Wow. I think you ought to go back to my first comment.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Jharis

      Wisconsin man i totally agree, why isn't that taught more? And to Tante thank you for living up to the stereotypical closed minded Christian and driving away believers in Christianity.

      October 10, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  9. mike smith

    Who rights the lead-in for these articles? A "top evangelical" ? Says who? How on earth are you ranking your religious figures. Is it number of miracles, size of congregation? Education level? Height? Stop with the hyperbole. Who cares? Its a religion . There's a million of em. Send in your 25.00 today. Get your pastoral diploma, join the crowd and be a "top " expert on preaching something today.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  10. unevangelized

    even Billy Graham says that Mormonism is a cult. google his name and the term 'what is a cult?' and read all about it.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  11. wanda

    That is such BS. Christians do view it as a cult. That is saying outloud something different than you say behind closed dorrs. Political,Political, not wanting to get people in a uproar! I'm not voting for him, because i am a liberal, but being a Morman should not have anything to do with it.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  12. Wes R.

    Dear Mr. Mouw,

    I was saddened to read your article as it is painfully apparent the Mormon PR machine has duped you. As a former mormon who is now a Christian I can tell you with 100% certainty that the LDS Church is most definitely a cult. How can I say this? I lived it for many years – I know how these people think and I know what they will say in private among themselves vs. what they will say to non-mormons in public. Your pleasant conversations with the duplicitous Bob Millett and his colleagues may be full of niceties when they are in your presence, but the things they say in private among only mormons is much different than what they say around you. The Jesus I put my trust in is not the spirit brother of Lucifer. The Jesus I put my trust in was not conceived through a physical relationship between God and Mary. The Jesus I put my trust in completed the work of salvation on the cross without the need for secret handshakes, signs, and tokens in the Mormon Temple. As a Mormon, I accepted all these offensive and abominable doctrines.

    Sir, as the President of Fuller Theological Seminary you are supposed to be a leader among Christians. We need you to lead and call out those that are trying to hijack our faith – Mormonism is NOT Christianity! Shame on you for trying to convince Christians, some of who may be weak in the faith, to believe otherwise.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • e.m.

      I have been a mormon for 20 years and you sir where no mormon.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  13. Doug J.

    Romney's Mormonism isn't his real problem. He was the governor of one of the most liberal states in the country. Now he has reversed himself on just about everything and is running as a right wing conservative. His values change based on his audience. He can be whatever you want him to be.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Tante Waileka

      You are 100% correct. Romney is a politician, plain and simple. He did a similar obozzo healthcare for his state and brought the state to its knees.
      I'm watching Herman Cain. Too bad the devil's minions (aka 'news' media) destroyed Sarah Palin's ability to run for President. Women have about had it with this mcp country, even though it's not nearly as bad as EU or Middle East or just about any other country in the world, it's still keeping women down and that's really sad.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  14. JennyTX

    While I was growing up going to church, I thought of Mormonism as a made-up religion. As an adult, I've given the matter a great deal of thought, and I've realized that ALL religions are made up.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • David Funk

      All Religions are cults until the founder dies. once upon a time Christianity was thought of as a cult

      October 9, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  15. Rick1948

    I think you could easily define any religion as a "cult".

    October 9, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  16. David Suttner

    Those of you questioning the willingness of LDS believers to adopt what to you seem to be such strange doctrine of faith I want to ask you to stop for just a moment and think about this. I have been a member of the LDS faith for many years and would like to ask those of you who are condeming of this faith to really consider this point of understanding about our belief. When is the last time you have heard of a general leader in conflict with the legal/moral/ethical mores of our society ? I am talking about the leaders entrusted with church leadership at the highest levels of the LDS Church. These men and women are quite often brilliant and I mean brilliant men and women in their professions. Others are extremely capable personalities in their circles of influence while all are sound in their faith.

    Often times when a person expresses an idea or opinnion it is a reflection of their leader's teachings and not their own due diligence for understanding where as it seems this author's opinion is born of such diligence. I would submit to you that if you really want to know the truth about the LDS faith give a little thought to the fact that these are in many instances human beings of tremendous ability. This is not to take away from those who may have the same affect on you, but in no way could I ever stand there in your position and say that these individuals are fools. It seems to me that you are belittling a culture of which you are unable to recognize an inestimable level of virtue pomoted by its adherents. They are not a perfect lot but I have experienced joy immeasurable and am prepared to follow this path and lay it at the feet of my Savior as a life spent in His service. You will present yours. The measure to our ability to give will be our satisfaction of the life experience. For me I am thankful for my fellowship with these like minded individuals and humbled by their willingness to allow me to associate with them.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  17. Kate65

    Sorry, forgot to add to my comment: "In my Father's house there are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you" (John 14:2) . Score one for Jesus, zippo for bigots.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Randy

      Way to go! Can you quote another verse out of context?

      Mormonism is a cult.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Hogwash

      Always interesting to hear from people who judge others for judging others, NOT! Can't you see that, by your own definition, you are being a bigot by judging "bigots." Is our educational system so bad in this country that "intelligent" people like you can't see inconsistencies within your own rationalizations? Just another example of how incapable American's are in seeing through their own inconsistencies and hypocrisy.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Dumb Dumb

      Who is this Moron....er....Morman?

      October 10, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  18. jack


    October 9, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  19. rudy

    somebody respond i just want to be heard....by the way they are by no means related to the modern baptist church. good people who were killed off

    October 9, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • i hear ya


      October 9, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  20. Larry Smith

    I am Mormon and I can tell you that our love for the Saviour has never changed. Our leaders since the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have always written inspiring messages and have given inspiring sermons on the crucial role of Jesus Christ in our salvation. Christ is the center of our church and the center of our lives if we are living our religion. I am glad that Jesus will be my judge when I die and not some of these people who claim that I am not a Christian without knowing me personally. Christ taught "judge not that ye be not judged".

    October 9, 2011 at 11:17 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.