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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. Rob

    Funny... I've never heard of this "Top Evangelical." He must have a pretty good impression of himself.

    Too bad he is severly misinformed. Mormonism completely changes the Gospel... this my friend is the definition of a cult. Too say there are similarities is true... but similarities don't over ride the glaring differences in the changes to the Gospel message.

    Look... I don't hate on Romney because he is a mormon. Truth is... half the politicians in our world claiming to follow Jesus are nominal followers at best... they court the conservative base to get elected. It's hilarious to listen to them try to quote Scripture and sound like they know what they are talking about... sadly... they often take Scripture out of context and make a mockery of the faith.

    BUT PLEASE... OH GREAT EVANGELICAL LEADER... Please check your definition of a cult and actually study up on how Mormonism changes the Gospel message before you make yourself sound like another unstudied Christian who just wants everything to be sunshine and lollipops. The Gospel is not and will never be popular in this world (Jesus said so)... so quit trying to tell us that their false teaching isn't a big deal. because there are a few similarities... because if that is the case... then there really is no difference between the Legalism of the Jews in the New Testament and the Gospel of Justification by faith that Paul preached... because there sure are a lot of similarities between them and us... right? Wrong!

    October 10, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Carlos

      http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/cult

      Oxford would define Christianity as a cult my friend. May peace find you.

      On a separate note, I wish occassionally that Romney wasn't Mormom, because he's the slam dunk Candidate on finance issues. If not for his Faith, he would be the unquestioned front runner.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Don

      Rob consider you could be in the cult and not the other way around.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • Ryan

      this is not a question of "do mormons interpret the gospel the same way other churches do?" the question is simply: are mormons christians? avoiding the infinite loop of quoting random verses of which there are many translations and interpretations, the simplest definition of a christian would be an INDIVIDUAL who believes that Jesus is the Christ. every single denomination of christianity will teach differently the principles of marriage, baptism, heaven, sin, etc. etc. They all disagree! but the Mormon church is just like the other christian churches: there is a common belief that Jesus is the Christ. though there are many disagreements about other gospel topics, keep in mind that those topics aren't a question about christianity. Above all, only Jesus himself can declare if a person is his follower, or if an entire church follows his teachings or not. In otherwords, it's probably not a good idea to make a claim that only God himself has the right to do. Just think about that.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  2. redwine9991

    RELIGION IS THE PROBLEM. OF COURSE, THEY ARE CULTS.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • whocares

      Well said!

      October 10, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  3. Melissa

    If you want to know what the Mormons believe you can go to mormon.org . It's one of the only places where you can read about their beliefs and not have them misconstrued.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • nympha

      or, read the Book of Mormon, which I have, and am instead a follower of Christ. Most Mormon friends I know disagree with the doctrine in their own book or they don't know whats in it.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:21 am |
  4. mspatriotbx

    Why should the faith of any person come into play for politics? It is simple. The country we live in is run by others. The so called presidents are plain old puppets. JFK was a Roman Catholic (only one) and see where that got him. Barack Obama is not affiliated with any religon. Smart move on him. Do you think that the powers that really run this nation will let a Morman in the White House? For some God awful reason i think not. What ashame. Someone that would run this country like a business, the way it sould be done.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • SarahM

      I agree that this country should be run like a business. I think Romney would do a good job in the White House. He has been a successful business man. I think people should look at what he has done and how successful he has been in his endeavors. I like his morals, his character and I generally think he is a good man. No matter his religious affiliation...I think it is those things that stand out.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  5. ShellyGirl

    I do not know which cult you belong to or which cultic master's interpretation of the Bible you follow but I suggest that there are very few going that have not been guilty of these sins. Whether by selling indulgences, easy confession, predestination or instant get-out-of-hell-free saving by grace, the vast majority of Christendom has at one time or another allowed the most abominable crimes to be committed in the name of the God of Love while believing they were safe from the consequences of their evil. This is truly worse than failing to understand or agree on the doctrine of the Trinity or of any other doctrine other than Love God and Love your Neighbor.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  6. Brian

    Religion is a growth industry in this country. This silly, palavering article just demonstrates that.

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

      This article is the mans reason for believing mormonism isnt a cult. I dont understand how we went from that to your response..

      October 10, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  7. Don Griffith

    Dr. Mouw states that Christian Science is a cult. It is anything but a cult. In fact, it is as close as one can come, in its teachings and demonstrations, to the "historic Christianity" that was taught by Jesus and perpetuated by his followers almost immediately after his resurrection. John, Peter, James, Paul and Thomas expressed true "historic Christianity" in in their writings, teachings and healings–which are preserved and practiced in Christian Science.

    The Roman Christian Church–Christian orthodoxy–systematically eliminated all opposing early Christian churches/religions in the centuries following Constantine's council in Nicea. Except for information found at Nag Hammadi, true early Christianity and its texts were mostly, systematically eliminated and creeds were devised to refute them for future generations. This means that ascertaining "true" Christianity prior to 325 CE is very difficult. Consequently the term "historic Christian teaching" applies to the birth of the Nicene Creed rather than to those truly historic Christianities prior to that time. The remnants of these Christianities are very different from what became orthodoxy and was consequently named "Christianity" 300 years after Jesus left this earth.

    The word "cult" has a negative connotation today because of the restrictive definitions used to refute anything that doesn't fit this basic orthodoxy which sprung from the Roman Christian Church over 1600 years ago.

    If the reader wishes to learn more about Christian Science–an expressly Christian religion that doesn't resemble today's definition of "cult" but gets classified by those ignorant of what it teaches, because it is at odds with the predominate form of religion today–,go to spirituality.com and see for yourself. As an extra bonus, expect to be healed of whatever ails you through your study of this Science as a proof of its validity and efficacy. I don't know of any "cult" that can make this statement, do you?

    October 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • VegasRage

      Really now, that's a whole lot of hoopla about nothing.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Mark

      And yet your post validates his argument that cults have an "us versus them" mentality and think they are the only true religion.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  8. Andrew

    Mormons lost all credibility as a faith when they violated their own principles to fund a legislative attack on the rights of gay Californians, via Proposition 8. They can pretend to all the morality they want, but when the chips were down, they lied and stole and broke their own rules. My relatives are Mormons and I am ashamed of them.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Kelli

      "They lied and stole?" Are you insane? And you're ashamed of your Mormon relatives? For what, standing up for something that they believe in? Trying to fight to preserve their religious freedoms???

      October 10, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  9. luvUamerica

    Whew...it is like one cult telling the other cult...hey you are not a cult after all...

    October 9, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  10. Reality

    The Mormon "Church", aka the business c-ult fronting as a religion founded by one of the great con artists of all time, Joseph Smith,

    From: lds-mormon.com/time.shtml

    "The first divergence between Mormon economics and that of other denominations is the t-ithe. Most churches take in the greater part of their income through donations. Very few, however, impose a compulsory 10% income tax on their members. Ti-thes are collected locally, with much of the money pas-sed on informally to local lay leaders at Sunday services. "By Monday," says Elbert Peck, editor of Sunstone, an independent Mormon magazine, the church authorities in Salt Lake City "know every cent that's been collected and have made sure the money is deposited in banks." There is a lot to deposit. Last year $5.2 billion in t-ithes flowed into Salt Lake City, $4.9 billion of which came from American Mormons."
    "The Mormons are stewards of a different str-ipe. Their charitable spending and temple building are prodi-gious. But where other churches spend most of what they receive in a given year, the Latter-day Saints employ vast amounts of money in investments that TIME estimates to be at least $6 billion strong. Even more unusual, most of this money is not in bonds or stock in other peoples' companies but is invested directly in church-owned, for-profit concerns, the largest of which are in agribusiness, media, insurance, travel and real estate. Deseret Management Corp., the company through which the church holds almost all its commercial as-sets, is one of the largest owners of farm and ranchland in the country, including 49 for-profit parcels in addition to the Deseret Ranch. Besides the Bonneville International chain and Beneficial Life, the church owns a 52% holding in ZCMI, Utah's largest department-store chain.

    All told, TIME estimates that the Latter-day Saints farmland and financial investments total some $11 billion, and that the church's nont-ithe income from its investments exceeds $600 million. "

    "Members of the church celebrate the Lord's Supper with water rather than wine or gra-pe juice. They believe their President is a prophet who receives new revelations from God. These can supplant older revelations, as in the case of the church's historically most controversial doctrine: Smith himself received God's sanctioning of pol-ygamy in 1831, but 49 years later, the church's President announced its recision. Similarly, an explicit policy barring black men from holding even the lowest church offices was overturned by a new revelation in 1978, opening the way to huge missionary activity in Africa and Brazil. "

    October 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • ShellyGirl

      Not one dime was spent on clergy, but helping the poor and sustaining the growth of its membership. Darn, you thought you had an intelligent comment.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Debbie

      You may want to check your facts, they are VERY old. ZCMI sold to Macy's in 2001. So at best, your information is a decade old.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • Reality

      The leaders of the Mormon Church/"Cult" are not paid? Actually, they are paid via being executives of the large Mormon-owned businesses:

      Some history:

      e.g. http://207.224.220.202/excerpts/hier2.htm

      "The Quorum of Twelve's president Ezra Taft Benson was a director of Beneficial Life Insurance Co. Apostle Howard W. Hunter was president of the Polynesian Cultural Center (Hawaii), and director of Beneficial Life Insurance Co., of Continental Western Life Insurance Co., of Deseret Federal Savings and Loan, of First Security Bank of Utah, of First Security Corp., of Heber J. Grant & Co., of PHA Life Insurance Co. (Oregon), of Watson Land Co. (Los Angeles), and of Western American Life Insurance Co. Apostle Thomas S. Monson was president and chairman of the board of Deseret News Publishing Co., vice-president of LDS Social Services and of Newspaper Agency Corp, and director of Beneficial Life Insurance Co., of Commercial Security Bank, of Commercial Security Bankcorporation, of Continental Western Life Insurance Co. (Iowa), of Deseret Management Corp., of IHC Hospitals, Inc., of Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Co., of Murdock Travel, of PHA Life Insurance Co. (Oregon), of Pioneer Memorial Theater, and of Western American Life Insurance Co. Apostle Boyd K. Packer was chairman of the board of Utah Home Fire Insurance Co., while also director of Murdock Travel and of Zion's First National Bank. Apostle Marvin J. Ashton was president of Deseret Book Co., chairman of the board of ZCMI, and director of Beneficial Development Co., of First Security Bank of Utah, of First Security Corporation, of Laie Resorts (Hawaii), and of Zion's Securities Corporation. Apostle L. Tom Perry was director of American Stores Co. (which operated Skaggs Drugs and Alpha Beta supermarkets), of ZCMI, of Zion's First National Bank, and of Jewel Companies, Inc. (Chicago), and trustee of LDS Social Services and of Nauvoo Restoration. Apostle David B. Haight was director of Bonneville International Corporation, of Deseret Management Corporation, of First Security Bank of Utah, of First Security Corporation, and of Valtek, Inc., while also a trustee of Deseret Management Corporation Foundation. Apostle James E. Faust was vice-president of Deseret News Publishing Co., director of Commercial Security Bank, and of Commercial Security Bank Corporation, while also a trustee of Ballet West and of LDS Social Services. Apostle Neal A. Maxwell was director of Mountain Fuel Resources, Inc., of Mountain Fuel Supply Co., and of Deseret News Publishing Co. Apostle Russell M. Nelson was director of Zion's First National Bank. Apostle Dallin H. Oaks was chairman of the Public Broadcasting System (national), while also director of O.C. Tanner Jewelry Co. and of Union Pacific Railroad."

      October 10, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  11. Want to know?

    If you really want to know about the spirit of the Mormon church, I would suggest you visiting http://lds.org/general-conference/sessions/2011/10?lang=eng. These are the things the leaders of the church taught the members at the recent semi-annual conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Listen to the talks and judge from the spirit therein. I think it is best to glean information straight from the source when possible.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  12. DJ

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

    October 9, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Kattie

      That is because they are brain washed by egomaniacal Pastors and egomaniacal Fox news reporters....

      October 9, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • BoBo

      With small minds

      October 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Kim

      Yes, easily manipulated people will follow Psychopathic pastor where ever he leads them....You know, like sheep!

      October 10, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  13. Arick

    I would vote for a Satanist if he/she could get the job done.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Hogwash

      Someday you will have the chance. He is known in the Bible as the Anti-Christ and he will rise to power on a waive of sentiment that exactly reflects yours. Thanks for confirming what the prophets of the Bible have stated 2,000 years ago.

      October 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Arick

      Eh, still better than Bachman or Perry.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  14. Voodoo Idol

    All religions, by definition, are cults.

    cult
    noun, often attributive \ˈkəlt\

    : formal religious veneration : worship
    2
    : a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents

    And there you have it. Christianity is a cult. Mormon is a cult. Baptists are a cult. Evangelicals are a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • charlie

      Thats a poor definition..

      October 10, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  15. Hogwash

    According to the 3rd president of the Mormon church, John Taylor, Cain's curse of a dark skin marks the representatives of the Devil: “And after the flood we are told that the CURSE that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through HAM'S WIFE, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? because it was necessary that the DEVIL SHOULD HAVE A REPRESENTATION upon the earth as well as God;...” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 22, page 304)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6oK2bFEeyU&feature=related

    October 9, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • ShellyGirl

      Your clip doesn't match up with your words. You are misrepresenting, on purpose. No worries, the Mormons won't be mad if you don't join.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • jo

      You're taking and modifying the video interview to fit your conclusion. Not a fair video as you've edited it.
      Also, didn't God select Jacob to be Israel, that His seeds should carry the promise of the Gospel and Savior? Didn't He wipe away the people of Canaan and others completely because of their sins? This included children, too. If you want to get real picky, then there are many examples of what you could consider a similar blessing or "cursing" of people. Mormons restricted the priesthood, but so did God in the OT with Aaron's blood. This doesn't mean Mormons were racist, as they loved Blacks, promoted equality for them, and treated them with respect and opposed slavery. You are simply not providing the whole truth nor picture.

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

      That video is very conveniently edited to paint the Mormon church in a bad light. Slavery once existed, as well, but has been abolished. Get over it.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  16. Gary

    They worship Joseph smith and pull in as many people as they can to get in money. I am a Christian who lives in Utah. Live here for 6 months. Mormonism is a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • ShellyGirl

      You sound so scared. Big bad Mormons. Funny, my neighbors are the best, loving, Christ-like examples I can think of. I am from Utah now. I lived in CA for 23 years and found just the opposite.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • jo

      They don't worship Joseph Smith, they worship God and Jesus Christ. They respect and follow Joseph Smith as Christians do all the prophets in the Bible, like Moses, Peter, Isaiah, etc. I'm sorry that you don't see the good in your Mormon neighbors. I live in NY now, and the genuine kindness that Mormons in Utah show is rare.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Kelli

      They do NOT worship Joseph Smith, that is ridiculious. Mormons worship God and his son, Jesus Christ.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  17. FormCritic

    A few differences between Christianity and Mormonism? The right honorable gentleman from Fuller Theological Seminary is a master of understatement.

    We believe very different things...about the very issues you raise as similarities.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  18. Jimbo

    Evangelicals, mormons....whats the difference? Same ol' bs.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  19. Jim

    When a Republican is a Morman, CNN talks about problems with it. With a Democrat like Reed – who is also a Morman – CNN never makes a peep.

    Bias? We don't see no stinking bias!!!

    October 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • MJ

      THAT is because Democrats don't care what his Religious beliefs are....Democrats, are for the most part, SANE!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • CristiianfforHuntsman

      Well said! Huntsman 2012

      October 9, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • jo

      Good point Jim. @ MJ: you're conclusions about sanity is a jump.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Jim

      So Mj, You admit that all libs are frauds when they claim any religion? It's good you can see your corruption.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:35 am |
  20. Printlight

    Makes perfect sense: Baptists are a cult by your own definition. First, they are us versus them. Just look at the Tea Party. Writer states that a cult thinks that they are the only ones who benefit from divine approval: those are the Baptists. Why? It is only them who have the benefit of going to heaven because they confess that Jesus is something or other and they are saved even if they kill or steal or commit adultery. It does not matter because they are the only religion on earth that thinks that way. Next, the writer states that a cult does not like to engage in respectful give and take dialogue. Just listen to a baptist preacher. The earth is 6,000 years old and Adam was a real person etc and if you don't believe it along with all the rest then you go to hell. That is pretty good dialogue to me.
    The Bible is the source of all truth for them and they can quote individual verses to suit their twisted idea of truth but then it is their truth. If you ask them about miracles they will be pretty quick to tell you that does not exist. Wrong Bible I guess. And, yes, Jesus is coming soon so get ready for the rapture. Thank you for reminding me that the Baptist nuts and the Tea Party who are dragging us all to hell are the real cult in America.

    October 9, 2011 at 11:48 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.