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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. Lenny

    ALL religions are cults. It's just that when you get a big enough membership in your cult, and enough official ceremonies, texts, official wardrobes and branding, people start calling it a religion. It's happened over and over and over through time. Everyone claims to worship the one true god, and everyone else's god is the wrong one. Mormonism is a cult. Islam is a cult. Christianity is a cult. Judaism is a cult. If you gather together with others to worship an invisible man, you are in a cult. Millions of Americans participate in their cults every Sunday at church.

    Only science can uncover the truth about the universe. Unfortunately, I think the religious cults as we know them will always exist, and will always do their best to tear humanity apart.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  2. Mindy Suttner

    It matters not to me the color of one's skin or the brand of God one wears on his lapel. Rather, it matters to me how one acts. Matthew said it best: "by their fruits ye shall know them." Active Latter-day Saints are good parents, good neighbors, and good citizens. They pay their bills, their taxes, and their dues. They take care of the poor and needy. They are a very healthy and happy bunch. All Christians and non-Christians alike would do well to emulate their "fruits". This is a small planet with lots of problems and lots of people in need. I think it's time for people of all faiths to unite for the common good.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Your are quite correct. Unfortunately, fundamentalist fanatics cannot bring themselves to calling Mormons Christians, and a lot of those fanatics are running for the Republican nod for the presidency.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  3. Dave P.

    The problem is while the Mormon church claims it isn't a cult, its actions completely contradict that claim. I grew up in the church and can definitely say it meets with every defining characteristic of a cult:

    http://www.mormonstruth.org/mormon_church_is_a_cult.html

    October 10, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  4. RAYMOND A HEDLEY

    Even the leaders and spokespeople of so called higher levels of Christian education – like this so called President of Fullerton
    Theological Seminary (Cementary) – Dr. Richard J. Mouw – is it any wonder what's happening to America and the rest of the world in which we live. Since he distorts the TRUTH – the WAY and the LIFE – let it be know from the WORD OF GOD – THE BIBLE – of which I wonder if he even understands – without his own misconceptions – it points out – "There is a way that seemth right unto man(KIND) but the ways are death! Wihout a personal relationship of believing and receiving the Son of God – Jesus Christ – His Father – and His Holy Spirit – all other finite human man or woman made idealogies – beliefs – concepts – regilions – are CULTS – bordering on the OCCULT – bottom line you can only serve Jesus Christ or the Devil – SATAN – these are the only two – THERE are no others – and one DAY we all will know this but for some it will be too late!!!! May even Dr. Mouw only the LORD KNOWS!!!!!!! He may be spending eternity with his Mormon buddies who have the burning in their bosom!!!!! But never a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – thinking they will someday become gods – ruling their own planets! God MAKERS – that's what LUCIFER/SATAN thought – he fell hard – PRIDE GOES BEFORE A FALL!

    October 10, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • PeaceOut

      Have you actually read the Bible?

      October 10, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • Pot:Kettle

      HEDLEY,

      It's really hilarious that YOU think that YOU have it ALL right and everyone ELSE has IT all wrong... and they THINK that THEIR magic is the real truth and YOURS is NONSENSE. 🙂

      October 10, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Know What

      RAYMOND A HEDLEY... "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ"

      This is late 20th century pop-religio-psychology. You would never have heard that term 100 years ago. It is hooey. You are talking to yourself.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  5. Arick

    So Mormonism is a cult and the other Christian faiths aren't? So what the Mormons believe is somehow more insane than the general idea that a magical sky daddy created the universe and then knocked up a virgin with a son that turned out to be a zombie?

    October 10, 2011 at 12:28 am |
    • RAYMOND A HEDLEY

      Pretty pompous words from a finite piece of dust and clay – but you remember that statement when you're sentence for all eternity by that magical sky daddy and you are handed over to your father the Devil – then see how pompous you are????

      October 10, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • John Proctor

      Raymond - Watch (or read) "The Crucible". I know who you would have been...

      Hideous.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  6. power4things

    There are enough good explanations of why LDS is a cult, and why Romney should be shown the door, on this post, I really needn't bother ...

    October 10, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  7. RJM

    A very fair article from a neutral source.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  8. makhus

    Oh my!! What a heated subject..i thinks LDS/Mormons or Mormonism was a cult. It's considered a Church now that they have established a dogma of beliefs and their own sacred rites. I dont understand all of it and its quite fantastical...

    for example..why do they have to baptize (dead) ancestors?? what is the difference between Heaven and Celestial Paradise? Did Jesus really appear to the Native Americans? if so why only to certain Native Americans? Was Joseph Smith really a conman?
    ...pesonally the beliefs almost bordered on the occult.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Kelli

      Makhus,

      To find the answer to your questions, visit http://www.lds.org. There is a place where you can type in any question you have, and it's just online so you don't have to make an appointment with someone or wait. All the questions you asked, even if you were just asking them rhetorically, have a clear and meaningful answer. When you understand, you really won't think Mormonism sounds like a cult at all.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Loopy

      Wrong! The more I hear about these wild fantasies, the worse it sounds! Expelling it more doesn't make it true, or improve my opinion of people who would buy into such blatant nonsense! Even a child would call BS on some of it.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • Loopy

      "Explaining" not "expelling" Autocorrect....

      October 10, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Buy the Book of Mormon and read it. Don't rely on believers to give you a straight answer. Same thing goes for the Bible. If you get past Leviticus without laughing yourself into knots, check out the Song about the woman's body. Whew.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  9. Darth Vadik, CA

    Sure its a cult, but so is Christianity, Islam and Judaism...

    ...then again, people that sell people "save your soul" BS don't really have morals, as these evangelical creeps prove it...

    ...they know no one can beat Obama except maybe Romney, so of course it is OK to skew your morals a little and vote for a cultist, right evangelicals? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    PS Romney is an empty suit that Obama will take to the laundromat and wash it for 75 cents, so you might as well vote for Perry Republicans, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    October 10, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  10. Brad

    Who cares if Mormonism is a cult or not? The fact that a potential president actually believes the obvious fallacies that the LDS church teaches tells me this is not a rational thinking man. A simple internet search of some of their most fundamental (although not widely known) doctrines will reveal that they are false. If a man is not willing to confront real, knowable truth and follow wherever it leads then he is not fit to be president. I hope somebody asks him about the planet Kolob, the "Abrahamic" writings in his scripture, and what the LDS church has taught about the reason some people are born with dark skin. Then we'll see the real Mitt Romney.

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

      Yeah, just do a google search, the source of all truth, Right? Are you kidding? Random articles about a religion, which are opposed to that religion, no doubt skew reality. A true scholar would not use the "lesser known" things of an internet search as your proof of anything one way or the other.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Kelli

      What does the LDS teach about people being born with dark skin? I have been LDS for 33 years, and I've never heard of that. If you're thinking "the mark of Cain," that's a bunch of crap, and is not taught anywhere in the doctrine. You sound like an anti mormon who learned all he knows off of anti mormon websites. Go work on bettering yourself, and leave the Mormon Christians, alone!

      October 10, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • spencer Mac

      I find the whole article offensive, the evangelicals Im rooting for but to feel like they have claim on the who's a follower or not dialogue fits the atypical persona of arrogance, un-self-aware and prideful religous fanatics.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  11. Nodack

    LDS is a cult? They are all cults. A cult calling another cult a cult is LOL.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • HK observer

      Indeed, CSX wake up please. Mormonism is not only a cult it is the Taliban of the US, and a group that is inherently racist and pedophiliic. This is NO stretch! To be fair pretty much all of the twisted evangelical groups can live up to the "cult" status as well. How about the US government target them too with their drones! I'd be happy !

      October 10, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  12. Lenny Pincus

    Of course, getting rid of the book of Maccabees ruined the Bible for me and made all Christians into cult members as the action of men changed the meaning of the Gospel. One day these fundamentalists will get right with God.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  13. midcl

    Anyone who has bothered to attend a baptismal service for the LDS church knows that we do the ordinance in the name of Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In accordance with the teaching of the New Testament, we subsequently bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the authority of the Holy Priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ. We call ourselves Christians. I guess you will have to call us whatever floats your boat.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • CSX

      There is ONE true and living God, none before and noe after, He said so, that alone nullifiea Mormon doctrine, not to mention.....Christians are created beings who can be saved by the one and only God whose Son is Jesus.

      LDS are saved by a former sinner turned god who is one of untold billions of gods, and later the LDS men will be Saviours and gods too. Hmmm, not a cult yet?

      BTW, the very existence of the LDS church declares ALL churches dead since Paul and Peter and they restored it. Now what they call the one and only true church wants to be called a Christian like the people they suppossedley replaced? Hmmm. Can not be!!!!! You see how a lie has massive holes?

      October 10, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • MashaSobaka

      ...are non-Mormons allowed to attend baptismal services?

      October 10, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Debbie

      Masha Sobaka – ABSOLUTELY!! Anyone can attend a baptism. They key is just to find out when one is occurring (they are not regularly scheduled events, just whenever needed). Contact a church near you and they should be able to help you find one, sit in and take a peek. 🙂

      October 10, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • JF

      LDS men will be Saviours and gods too. Hmmm, not a cult yet?

      All Christians simulate the consumption of human flesh and blood. Not a cult yet?

      October 10, 2011 at 12:28 am |
    • Chad

      Yes, anyone may attend a baptismal service in a Mormon church.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  14. CSX

    There were warnings before about Catholics in office. Now we have Catholics in Congress and 6 of the Supreme Court with 3 Jews and we are more spiritually dead than ever. The founder's had wisdom.

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

      CSX .. .I'm dying of curiosity at your "facts". I've been an active Mormon for 40 years, I have taught the doctrine in Sunday School for several years, and am wondering who is this "Former sinner turned God" that will supposedly save me. I've been taught that it is only through the atonement of Jesus Christ that man might be saved. I believe you have been horribly misinformed about my religion.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • TJP

      Of which of these founding fathers do you speak of? Most were agnostic or unitarian...

      October 10, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  15. ShellyGirl

    This is by far the best article written this week about this event. This author is awesome. Thank you CNN for picking someone who sees the world in terms of humanity and civility.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • Kelli

      I agree! Finally, a fair and honest article that is not full of hate, bigotry, and lies. Those that persecute and lie about the Mormon religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,) need to ask themselves what they are afraid of, and what is the cause of their hate. Anyone who actually studies the Mormon religion (not just on google,) will be convinced that this is a good thing, and not a cult. In addition, Mormons are known as highly successful and disciplined people, not to mention honest and hard working. Romney seems to be all of these, as well as a very intelligent and qualified candidate.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  16. MJ

    I am not worried about Romney's religion! I am worried about the fact that he changes his views as often as most people change their underwear. Whatever the crowd wants to hear! Like he has no idea that someone invented a recording device that actually records what he says.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  17. CSX

    This cult is not a cult. Trust me, the cult is not a cult. Anyway, on a serios note.....Christians are created beings who can be saved by the one and only God whose Son is Jesus.

    LDS are saved by a former sinner turned god who is one of untold billions of gods, and later the LDS men will be Saviours and gods too. Hmmm, not a cult yet?

    BTW, the very existence of the LDS church declares ALL churches dead since Paul and Peter and they restored it. Now what they call the one and only true church wants to be called a Christian like the people they suppossedley replaced? Hmmm. Can not be!!!!! You see how a lie has massive holes?

    October 10, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • ShellyGirl

      Not only did you not read the article, you even commented with lies. Way to go.

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

      These are a few that expalin the real issues with Mormonism. But you must know the truth to understand a lie.

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

      spoken like a typical former member of the mormon church.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Chad

      I believe in only one God, and that Jesus is the Christ, and the only way by which we can be saved. And I am a Mormon.

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

      Chad, you know not your doctrine. There is more...much more than what I have stated.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Chad

      CSX, you are either a liar or a believer of lies. You have no right to represent Mormonism in the way you are trying to do. Every Mormon I know knows the doctrine well enough to be able to state the very same as I have stated. You are caught in your lies, whether they are yours or of someone else, but it would be best for you to quit bearing false witness.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • DLDuke

      CSX,

      In my 42 years I have run across so many like you who profess to know so much, but in reality know nothing. If I were to look at ANY religion I could make the same types of statements you have made and make them all look ridiculous and yet what good would it do? Would that give the whole story of that religion, or simply some aspects taken out of their complete context to make me seem like I actually know something important.

      Your attempt at sharing what you "know" about our church is, in fact, quite juvenile and nothing that we who belong to the church don't already know. We, however, know and understand the full context while you do not. It's as simple as that.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  18. Mcd

    The people who comment here in favor of Mormons seem at least civil...even if misguided. The people who don't seem really angry – like scRy-angry. This, in my experience, is telling. It's hard to picture our country benefitting much from really angry, acidic people who only offer up bitter criticisms.

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

      Your reply reminded me of Mitt's own response to this situation: "Poisonous language doesn't advance our cause. It's never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind." And those who continue to presume to understand the Mormon faith by saying irrational sentences like: "LDS are saved by a former sinner turned god..." really do NOT know my religion, and should not profess to know it. I'd LOVE to know who you are talking about CSX, since 40+ years of "indoctrination and brainwashing" have only taught me that it is only by and through the atonement of Jesus Christ that I will be saved (And yes I am a Mormon)

      October 10, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  19. whocares

    II CARE ABOUT THE ECONOMY NOT HIS RELIGION...

    For that reason I will not vote for Obama again!

    People use religion as a wedge to hate one another whose opinions differ then their own too me that is a cult. .If people would concentrate on real issues and not throw the bible or their teachings in our face we could all leave in peace!

    October 10, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  20. Chad

    If anything Rev. Jeffress, you are mixing religion with politics. That is not Christianity. Render to Ceaser that which is Ceasars and to God that which is Gods. You accept money for your religious rhetoric. You try to silence religious freedom for anyone other than your brand of religion in the public square. Yours is an act of a cult. We agree on one thing, you have historically been restrictive about Christianity, a very un-Christlike policy.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:04 am |
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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.