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. Harry Kermet

    All Mormons Suck. They are brainwashed individuals who believe in very strange and fantastic things that never occurred. Having a Mormon president would be worse than having W back in office.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Harry Kermet

      You said: "All Mormons Suck. They are brainwashed individuals who believe in very strange and fantastic things that never occurred. Having a Mormon president would be worse than having W back in office."

      Allow me one correction: All Mormons and Evangelicals Suck. They are brainwashed individuals who believe in very strange and fantastic things that never occurred. Having a Mormon or Evangelical president would be worse / the same as having W back in office.

      Vote for the Dems in 2012!


      October 9, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • jo

      @Harry, Isn't this what faith is? Everyone who believes in God believe in things that are very strange and fantastic! This is exactly what all religions preach, and those who follow believe with faith. As the Bible states, we are a "peculiar people" as believers.
      @David, Just because our state of science and our limited logic doesn't provide definitive proof, doesn't mean Christians and followers of religion are brainwashed. In fact, even science continues to evolve and change as new discoveries are made. Think of this year's Nobel Prize winners who discovered "dark energy"! This was not know until they discovered it, so even science is not all complete. Science hasn't proven God, but that does not mean He doesn't exist.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Kelli

      You suck!

      October 10, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  2. william fitzwater

    This stuff reminds me of JFK don't vote for him he's a Catholic. Now I'm a Democrate but in a sense I feel this Pastor in a sense delt Perry campain the kiss of death in a sense by making such a self serving comment. In a sense any relgion that losses sight of the ministry of Jesus Chrsit is in a sense a cult . There are some people who agree with me. My hope is Pastor just as pundits use words of healing not words of division for a person of another faith tradition. Sadly I won't vote for Romny but I would not make his faith a litmus test. Hes potions ( when their flip flopping on health care and countless others ) are in opposition of what I believe is right and fair for working people and where this country needs to go in the next four years. I would hope the conversation will shirt in that direction but if the Conservatives wish to camp out on silly issues like this . Its their time , money , manpower and credibly thats on the line . We will just shake our heads and say that sucks why can't you be more accepting and progressive like the Democratic in this matter....

    October 9, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  3. Robert

    Romney is a job creator and a wealth generator. I need a job, and you could get a better job if the economy was improved.

    Romney has a proven record of turning anything he touches into gold. He is a fix it man. Let him use his skills to fix this country.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • MJ

      And the KING of the Flip-Flop!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  4. Hogwash

    According to Mormon doctrine people of color were made that way due to a curse from God.

    Read 2 Nephi 5:21. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Book_of_Mormon/2_Nephi#5:21.

    Hard to defend that one. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPGE6CzZ_84&feature=related

    October 9, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Stephanie

      To be fair, the bible is replete with stuff that is kind of hard to defend (e.g. If you child disobey you, then you have to stone him to death, etc).

      October 9, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  5. Zippy

    Well, it's not Christianity.
    I'm not saying don't vote for Romney because he isn't a Christian.
    I'm just saying Mormons are not Christians.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • MJ

      Christian means "Christ like" By definition, most Christians would fall into the non-Christian category as well.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • Kelli

      Mormon is a nickname for members of "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." We believe that the original gospel, taught by Jesus Christ, has been restored to the earth. That is what we teach, believe, and practice. How is that not Christian?

      October 10, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • nympha

      Mormons do not believe that Ch rist is one and the same as God (the trinity). Mormons do not believe that Ch rist died for our sins and that by believing in Him we are free and will live with Him forever. Both concepts are absolutely fundamentally Chr istian. Your Chr ist is not our Ch rist. The two are fundamentally diffferent. I studied Mormonism for years and discovered that my Mormon friends usually had no clue what their doctrines were according to the Book of Mormon. The differences are very, very clear when you compare the Bible to the Book of Mormon.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  6. Brad

    The Republican Party is a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  7. Robert

    To think people have a problem with Romney – a man of faith and principle, meanwhile the White House is being run by a man who was M uslim -pillaging and ransacking our country. God help us get Obummer out of office.

    Go Romney, Go Cain, Go Perry. We need the White House back!

    October 9, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Brad

      Yeah man...Let's have 4 or 8 more years of running middle class Americans into the ditch. Who needs 'em.
      Poor people should all just die so we don't have to carry their load.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Obama a Muslim??? Dude, you are so deluded...

      October 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  8. Imperfectone

    wbn summed it up pretty well.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  9. Mark P

    Headline: "Top Evangelical: Mormonism Not A Cult". Um, the unknown president of an unheard-of evangelical school, isn't anything close to a "top evangelical" except in his tiniest of mud puddles. The article contains within it in the author's own words, the seed of it's own debunkment: "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." Please try to say mormonism doesn't meet that definition of "cult", to the many thousands of former mormons who undergo formal "shunning" and utter ostracization from every one of their mormon family and former friends (in fear for their mortal soul if they don't), when they leave the...not faith...CULT. Joseph Smith was a convicted con artist before he started this scam that far outlived him. Anyone who wants to find out about how this supposed modern-day prophet came to create this corporate enterprise masquerading as religion, please read the book "The God Makers", by Ed Decker and Dave Hunt (which mormons themselves, are prohibited from reading......for VERY good reason!!!) It's an amazing eye-opener tell-all, written by formerly high-ranking church insiders who became utterly disillusioned when (in their new high-ranking positions) they learned the cult's most closely-held secrets that exposed it's false foundation completely. The Mormon 'church' attempting to ride the coattails of Jesus Christ, including with much 'gospel' plagiarized verbatim from ancient texts, is much more accurately referred to as "The Cult Of Joseph Smith Of Latter-Day Saints". It's not only a cult...worse yet, it's actually an elaborate SCAM that has somehow survived and considered by some as having the legitimacy of an actual religion even after officially disposing of one of it's central themes of bigamy to remain above-ground. Most mormons don't recognize this... don't hate them...pity them. But whatever you do, don't consider voting for someone belonging to a cult!!!

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

      I don't want to waste too much time on this false trash but The God Makers are not forbidden to be watched by members of the LDS church. The entire video, books and anything else that Mr. Decker has done has all been debunked! How about reading the book "The Truth about the God Makers." That will clearly show that Mark P, E. Decker and other charlatains like them are satan's disciples. If you want the truth about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints go to http://www.mormon.org

      October 9, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  10. Richard S Kaiser

    The skies a dim blue like the eyes of my Love.
    The spirit does beckon on the wings of a dove.
    Light years beyond the travailing winds yawning,
    Harbors the safety on which comes the dawning.
    GOD is the allness and HIS Spirit is calling us all.
    Now is the Time to ever remember His fall.

    Together we all do await in secondly concerns,
    The Holiest Spirit brings flight and duly it burns.
    Distance one measures the will of His ways,
    Craving the depths of jealousy's days,
    Live and do Love all that bemoans their uneven weights,
    Pray for those lost that considers their fates.

    Kindness sequesters and keeps itself clean,
    Forgive me dear Lord my words that seem mean.
    I just jest with the rest who belittle of the malcontent
    My raiments are but clothes that the Lord made rent.
    Love them GOD and bring them your first Son,
    Who bought us all, our spirits, our souls, He has truly thus won!

    October 9, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  11. i hear ya

    So why do people care so much? I mean, Mormonism didnt affect the people of Mass. did it? Do you really think that Mormonism would affect him as president?

    October 9, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Frank Cardenas

      Mormonish wasn't much of an issue until the Mormon Church spent millions of dollars to legislate their dogma in California with the Prop 8 issue. And no matter what you read in this article, Blacks were not accepted in this church until 1978 as equals. Romney was a part of this church then and that is not acceptable.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Kelli

      His qualities as a Mormon would make him a damn good president!

      October 10, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  12. Clint

    One nation, indivisible....at least until you throw religion in the mix.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  13. christianby choice

    I am a born again Christian. Do I live a perfect life? Absolutely not. What I fear the most is that as I age (36) I realize what a God fearing nation we aren't. I do not agree with the mormon faith. But what scares me more, is the fact that our nation is less and less ruled as One nation under God. Mormons are not members of a cult. However, they do have a strong belief in Christ. I would much rather be led by someone witha belief in Christ than someone that denounces Christ. People look around you. Look at what we have become. It is truly the end of time as is taught in Revelations. When people don't teach their children to love one another, when children do not fear God and believe in a god other than Jesus Christ. Or worse yet, when they have no faith. It amazes me how times have changed. It scares me when 8 year old children use the "f" bomb like its a common word. When evolution is fact and creation is a fairy tale. I know my God has taught me not to judge. So I won't. But the trials I have been through in my life I know that I wouldn't have made it through without Christ. So I will choose to teach my children to walk in the Lord's footsteps. And I will teach my children to fear God. I will also teach my children not to hate others or ridicule those that don't follow our faith. I will teach them to pray and fast for their salvation. The bible teaches us to fear God. But to love all mankind. So I pray for all of you that do not have God in your hearts. Just remember, we will all stand at the gates some day. Is it worth the risk of having no faith? Do you really want to spend an eternity wishing you had taken that leap of faith? God bless you all and I pray mercy on this nation.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Brooke Willson

      It's not "Revelations:' it's Revelation. And deeply devoted Christians have said they were living in the end times for two thousand years, including St. Peter (read Acts 2). Whatever you think of Romney's politics, Mormons don't believe in One God, which is the absolute first commandment of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  14. Mark

    Catholic Mother Teresa had serious doubt about her religion, so I find it amusing she is mentioned in this article. Here's a quote which I find appropriate, when one denomination of Christians calling another a cult, because they disagree on what the invisible sky daddy wants them to do.

    "When two men of science disagree, they do not invoke the secular arm; they wait for further evidence to decide the issue, because, as men of science, they know that neither is infallible. But when two theologians differ, since there are no criteria to which either can appeal, there is nothing for it but mutual hatred and an open or covert appeal to force." Bertrand Russell

    October 9, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  15. Robert

    I am a Christian and Romney's faith is not an issue with me. Bill Clinton claimed to be a christian and had the morals of a alley cat, no offence to cats. Obama claims to be a christian and is a maxist, Romney I believe is a moral individual and that is what matters me, even though I prefer Perry. If Christians did what the Lord taught, we would not be in the situation in this country. I stopped being a once issue voter, when I voted for Bob Casey (prolife democrat) John Heinz died in plane crash and Casey appointed a liberal democrat to fill the Heinz Sentate position. Time for people to get their head out of their blessed assurance and deal with reality. Remember Clinton and Obama won because of one issue center right leaning voters.

    Romney Cain 2012

    October 9, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Tim

      As an agnostic, I find Romeny infinitely preferable to Perry. Can't understand why anyone woiuld want
      to vote an ignoramus like Perry who claimed that he might back the secessionist movement which
      Texas is perpetually cultivating? Building a fence along the border just doesn't work. The guy is
      dangerous. Wake up.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • smlynch

      Robert, you don't seem to understand what Marxism is nor what Christ actually taught. Obama is not a Marxist, and Christ actually preached socialism. You're right that we wouldn't be in the state we're in today if people actually followed Christ's teachings. Starting with loving our enemies as our neighbors and treating everyone as we would like to be treated. Which includes paying fair taxes and providing charity for the less fortunate.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  16. Larry Smith

    Christ - "By their works shall ye know them."

    October 9, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  17. jay

    I beg to differ with his differing to beg.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Todd

      I beg to differ with those beggars who differ of this differing of begging

      October 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  18. Truth Hurts


    October 9, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Kelli

      I didn't even watch this, but if you've learned about Mormonism from watching Southpark, you are a total loser.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  19. tandjam

    If your religion spawns lots of websites to support former members who describe leaving your religion as 'escaping,' and if the former members need lots of support to transition to life outside the group, you might be in a cult. ('cult' as identified by the B.I.T.E. model: Behavior Control, Informatio­n Control, Thought Control and Emotional Control.)

    October 9, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Harry Kermet

      Mormonism sucks. A Mormon president would be even more suckier.

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

      Hey Harry, are you scared that someone qualified and honest might not fit in? Are you satisfied with the status quo Mafia? That was a nice experiment but it failed badly. Having a very unqualified man (black, white or red doesn't matter) elected may have given a lot of people the warm fuzzies but it nearly destroyed our country. Let's stop the name calling and the fear mongering and let's elect a qualified man that has a great reputation for turning things around in a very positive manner. Someone who knows about finances and is very capable.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Kelli

      OR, if people spread hate about your religion like wildfire, it may be that those who are easily influenced by evil are afraid, because deep down, Satan knows this religion is true.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:02 am |
  20. wbn

    Sorry to the scholar from Fuller, but Mormonism is a cult to historic Christianity. That doesn't mean Mormons are bad people; atheists are not necessarily bad people. A cult, historically in Christianity, is a following of self-labeled "Christians" after a leader or organization that proposes to be Christian in doctrine, but in reality is heresy to Christian doctrine. Mormons believe there are thousands or millions of gods, though one over this planet; Mormons do not believe in the Trinity; Mormons do not believe the Bible alone is the Word of God; Mormons deny salvation through Christ's death, burial, and resurrection; etc. They deny every significant Christain doctrine. I have Mormon friends, especially through civic clubs; I have worked with Mormons where we agree (issues of pro-life, patriotism, free-enterprise, law and order, basic morality, etc.). Mormonism is not Christianity, though, and thus (presenting itself as such) it is a cult. I'm sure historic Christianity is a cult of some kind to someone else's definition. So it goes. Let's not all get uptight because we have strong disagreements.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • David

      You need to visit mormon.org. Some of your statement just isn't true.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • johhnyyyy

      and you forgot that Mormans have magic underwear.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Wilson

      I agree 100% with you. Fact is CNN are trying as much they can, pervert the righteous teaching of Bible, and under of disguise
      of fellowship, political correctness and other malign purposes are using their capacity to wrongly influence as much people as possible to achieve their goals of a liberal and libertine Country. This guy that call self an scholar, he may be in the letter, but clearly he is off of the Spirit! Some of the elementary teachings of the Bible that are cardinals to Christian faith are overlooked by him, and probably the on line BBN Bible teaching course would do great things for his soul! Also, the truths WBN remembers in his comments are reals and it puts the Mormons on the cult list. And, yes, Christians should vote first for Christians, as the Bible teach... "we have to do good to all, but, first to domestic of our faith". Wake up CNN!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Keepin it real

      While you're comment is fair, you are flawed and I would recommend actual research prior to saying what Mormons believe and do not believe (I.e. They do believe in the trinity and do believe in salvation through Christ).

      October 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Dan in Seattle

      You state some interesting points, but few based in fact. Mormons do believe in the Godhead (Trinity) but three separate distinct beings. God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Ghost. The mormons do believe that it is only thru the Atonement and Grace of Christ that they can be forgiven and return to their Father in Heaven to inherit of His kingdom.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • nympha

      Keeping It Real, Dan in Seattle: The Holy Trinity are one and the same, not seperate individuals, thus, Mormons are not Christians. And, if you believe that Christ died for your sins, GREAT, AMEN! However, your Book of Mormon does not teach that. You might want to consider refering 100percent to the Bible if you choose it's content over the Book of Mormon because the two are fundamentally different.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:19 am |
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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.