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. JDJ

    An interesting point to note is that when Mormonism began, the leaders promoted it as being different from any established theology. Over time, they have tried to drop some of the more controversial stuff (multiple marriages, denying priestly designations to black men, etc.) so they could try to fit in the mainstream, but they have maintained some decidedly different beliefs such as the teaching that Jesus and Satan are spirit brothers. The simple truth is that Jesus died for all people and anyone can come to faith in Him and ask forgiveness.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • Remember...

      Great points... Lots of Mormons are good people but being good or believing in a different version of what is laid out clearly in the Bible means you've gone off track. Doesn't make you bad, just don't profess to be a Christian. Taking parts of the Bible and parts of what some guy said a couple of hundred years ago (much of which has had to be eliminated due to being politically incorrect) proves he was simply a man with a desire to be a leader. That's not being 'of God'.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • AZMo

      Good point, but remember, Latter-day Saints don't claim that we're perfect. All we believers in Christ (or whatever you'll allow me to call myself), know that there was only one perfect being who ever walked the Earth. BTW, check your Bible and check John Milton - Satan was indeed a fallen angel, and there is plenty of scritural evidence that the Savior was in Heaven with God before he was sent to save us from our sins. I know you have explanations for this, but our interpretation, just because it happens to be different from yours, deserves to be considered resectfully, not derided. Try talking to our clean-cut young missionaries sometime, not just relying on what your pastor tells you.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:21 am |
  2. LMM

    As a Christian and a non-partisan, I dislike this whole conversation. We are not voting for Messiah. If we were, not one of us would be qualified. We are voting on who can lead the SECULAR government best in the next four years. Romney is a man of high moral character who does not deserve to be labeled a "cultist".

    October 10, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • Unafiliated

      Amen... er... I agree.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:59 am |

    The protestors need ONE demand. Here it is:



    October 10, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  4. thad

    We need to separate three things money , religion , and politics. If we never let any of those three element come in contact with each other we would have a perfect world.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:55 am |

    Here's the solution:

    DEMAND ALL MEMBERS OF CONGRESS RESIGN. Read all about it in paparazzinc dot com....Pass this on or it will never catch fire..This is the solution.....USE IT.



    October 10, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  6. Suzydrew

    Chad and Kelli I'm Lilly White , so ask your friends just what year they or their parents were accepted into the Mormon Religon.! Were they they the token blacks the mormons had to let in ?

    October 10, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • Jay

      Suzy, were you around in 1979? And if so, did you regularly attend a church generally thought of as evangelical? And if so, did you have a black minister; or for that matter, any blacks, in the congregation?

      October 10, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  7. Unafiliated

    Based on the vitriol of "christians" against the peace-loving, hard-working, tax-paying, family-centered Mormons, I think I can predict that Mitt Romney will not reach the general election, and we will have four more years of the christian, Barak Obama. Nice job.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  8. DonE

    Mormans, redefine the person of Jesus Christ and then believe in their own fabricated Savoir. By doing this they are placing their faith in a false god which will not save anyone from sins and the judgement It is all a delusion. You can not be a Son of God without being God. Jesus said "I and the Father are one" and "If you see me you see the Father."

    October 10, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Unafiliated

      "It is all a delusion" ... Yes it is. All of it. All religion. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, DonE.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • ready4takeoff

      Might I suggest a class on deductive reasoning? Think about your subject matter before saying something that is not sound.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • Jwh8774

      So what about what that Jefferey Holland guy said, and what the authors students commented? Are you saying if someone professes belief in Christ but are not of a popular faith (ie man made faith from the reformation, first, and second awakenings, and/or Catholics who claim to have direct priesthood succession from Christ, only other faith besides the LDS church to have this claim) it isn't qualification of an actual belief in Christ? People with your ignorance allow other people to justify themselves to not believe in anything. Mostly because of the simple fact that a self professed Christians like yourself go against what is actually said and taught in the Bible. It is people's ignorance of other faiths other than their own that drive people to argue whether so and so's God is real or the true God, when in most cases it is the same exact God but their own interpretation of how to worship. So based on your comment do not be surprised by people who throw comments like the other person who replied to your post, it is what happens when you say an orange is actually the color green because your pastor told you so. Do yourself a favor and think outside your own understanding realizing your not the only right person in the world then you will be able to understand why Christianity has such a negative vibe with people now a days and the reason why the number of people who go to church is dwindling. I encourage this advice Love one another, its what Jesus Christ said to His disciples in John 13: 34-35 this is where Christianity should be.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  9. robert05

    If he was a Democrat it would definitely be a cult and they would demand to see his original birth certificate in triplicate. Evangelicals are now no more than a rubber stamp of the Republican party As Lenny said "all religions are cults" and "only science can uncover the truth". I concur 100%.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  10. Dval

    To me, this headline reads, "Schizophrenic Patient In Room 201B Proclaims Dementia Patient In Room 115 Is Not Crazy." When you boil it down, you have one man who believes that by telepathically worshiping an invisible being one can gain immortality, telling the public another man, who thinks golden tablets written by an invisible being were uncovered and translated using special stones by a convicted fraud in Palmyra, New York, is actually not crazy. Then again, there are mystical tablets written by an invisible god in both stories.

    "I'm driven with a mission from God. ...God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq...' And I did."- George W. Bush. With 850,000 Iraqis dead, I hope our imaginary friend is happy, because I'm certainly not.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  11. Dennis

    The true study of Christianity is the study of Jesus Christ. Hence the name of the Mormon church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. So to say they are not Christians or a cult is blasphemy in your belief in Jesus Christ our savor and redeemer. I have studied and been in many Christian faiths in my life and the Mormon church comes closer then any other religion on earth in how it follows how Christ himself established his church here on earth. Mormons are and forever are Christians the true followers of Jesus Christ. Heavenly Father bless those who don't believe and open there eyes to the truth of the gospel. I am Mormon!!!

    October 10, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  12. Sircuts

    The word "cult" refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. Joseph Smith (Church Founder) had 28 wifes and says he talked to god. Secret rituals? Polygamy? yup ...it's a cult

    October 10, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  13. Suzydrew

    At Lenny humans will always search for answers, Science will never uncover them all, we know peoples knew things we do not know today because in a cycle the earth spits us out and we start again from scratch with just enough knowledge to know there was something we knew but can't achieve before it happens again....The computer world will cease to exist ,Books will be burned ,lost,whatever, just like Alexandria. Back to 101

    October 10, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  14. thad

    A religion based on white supremacy practiced by a presidential canidate is very disturbing if you happen to be black or african-american. I commend the good pastor for speaking the truth. A puligulmist sect mixing christ into rascist views of a fake prophet john smith that book of later day saints is a wild fairytale. I have read it and it wasn't even worth burning. Just a bunch of tax evading fake religious white people who used and abuse our freedom of religion laws to make a buck.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • Pk

      1. Joseph Smith not John Smith.
      2. The Book of Mormon. Having supposedly read it you would think you would know the name.
      3. Blacks have always been able to become members of the LDS church. Would a racist group of white guys allow that?
      4. A large number of the LDS cHurches members are NOT white.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  15. danphxariz

    C.S. Lewis was an Anglican, he was not an "Evangelical" (except in the sense that all Christians are called to be evangelical in the great commission).

    October 10, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  16. Super-D

    The definition of "cult" generally seems to be "a religion that I don't like," with the most important difference between a cult and a religion being the number of followers. All religions are cults in my eyes. Just because you have a few million people believing something insane, it is still insane.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  17. Mike in Seattle

    It's not Christianity, it's Mormonism. And if you actually take some time to investigate it, it's just as kooky as Scientology. It may be the world's largest cult. That doesn't mean that the people who follow Mormonism are bad, but no matter what their propaganda machine says, it's still basically a cult.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Kelli

      Take some time to investigate it? Like what, doing a Google search? Brilliant, Mike.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • JF

      It's not Christianity, it's Mormonism.

      If I were Mormon, I would take that as a compliment.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Bert in UT

      Yeah, Mormons aren't Christians. They believe 20 angles can balance on a pin and Christians know it can't be more than 16,

      October 10, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  18. Seth

    You both pray to the same nonexistent father figure in the sky and intimidate your members into not leaving. Church, cult, cult, church, what's the difference?

    October 10, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  19. Jon

    If you believe in a magic man in the sky then whether or not you belong to a cult is not relevant. Christians are the reason that our country is held back from real progress at every turn. It should no longer be a necessity to be a Christian to lead this nation because there is always someone else, real or imagined, doing the thinking for Christian leaders. Mormonism is just an even crazier version of an already ludicrous belief system. When will intelligent, well educated Americans finally realize that these people are all insane. Magic Glasses? Protective Underwear? These are grown men who believe in fairy tales. Can we really trust them with our country?

    October 10, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  20. Suzydrew

    Someones forgotten to mention that true Mormonism believes A person should be lily white to be pure perfect....A person as Black as the ace of spades is pure Evil . Black people weren't allowed for most of their History until it became so unpolitically correct, just like Bigamy/poligamy.... The words of the book of Mormon come from Mormi sp ? They have been systematically placing themselves in possitions of power and acceptance whenever possible for many decades. And taking names,censuses, for well over a hundred years ! To bring about the New Zion ! I'd rather have a man of any Christian faith in the whitehouse than a Mormon.....

    October 10, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • Chad

      Are you black, Suzy, because I know several blacks who would dispute your false claims!

      October 10, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Kelli

      I think my black Mormon friends are laughing at you right now.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • pliving

      Your knowledge and insightful understanding of the Mormon church is TRULY astounding. You must have spent decades studying the church and it's ways. You're wrong about one thing though. Mormons aren't positioning themselves to become more powerful. It's actually the Skull and Crossbones society which rules the Masons which are secretly Communists that are attempting to position themselves in places of power. Here's a little known fact however. They're all ruled by one person....Elvis. He's alive and well and wants to rule the wooooorld! (insert evil laughter)

      October 10, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • Pk

      Blacks have always been allowed to join the LDS church. Get your facts straight.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:35 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.