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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. Cantard

    "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."

    -cough- If you don't accept Jesus Christ as your lord in savior you will burn in hell for ever and ever? This is what the Evangelicals believe, right? Evolution is a pack of filthy lies perpetrated by godless atheists who selfishly refuse to accept the generously offered gift of salvation. This is what Evangelicals say, right? Or is he only talking about inter faith considerations?

    October 10, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  2. RAYMOND A HEDLEY

    A CULT – ASK THE MORMONS FOR JESUS – WHO CAME OUT OF THE FALSE TEACHINGS OF JOSEPH SMITH AND THE LDS. I'VE MINISTERED THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST IN SALT LAKE CITY UTAH SO I KNOW WHAT THEY BELIEVE AND ARE ABOUT! PLUS I'VE TALKED EXTNSIVELY WITH SEVERAL ELDER OF LDS – WHO HAVE SAID THEY'LL GO TO THEIR GRAVES BELIEVING WHAT THEY BELEIVE!!! AND UNLESS GOD THE FATHER DRAWS THEM TO HIS SON JESUS CHRIST – AND OPENS A PERSONS SPIRITUAL EYES THEY WON'T GIVE A DAMN UNTIL THEY'RE FACED WITH ETERNAL DAMNATION BUT THEN IT'S TOOOO LATE MY FRIEND! EVEN IF YOU LIVE TO BE A HUNRED PLUS WHAT THE HELL IS THAT COMPARED TO ALL ETERNITY????? nothing!!!!! WE ALL PLAY FOR KEEPS IN THIS LIFE – NO MATTER WHAT ANY FOOL MAY SAY OR TELL YOU!!!! AND THOSE WHO THINK GOD AND SATAN ARE A JOKE – ARE IN FOR A HELLISH REVELATION WHEN THEY COME FACE TO FACE WITH THEM!!!!

    October 10, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • Ryan in Miami

      You really shouldn't type in all caps. It ruins your "street cred" and makes you look like just another nut on the internet. You obviously have strong beliefs and opinions, but you aren't any better than those whose beliefs you deride.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:31 am |
  3. AZMo

    As a Latter-day Saint I honestly have been stunned by the way my religion, which focusses on taking on the name of Christ, has been derided by many who profess to be Christian. This article was refreshing and reflects the experience I've had through my life of 55 years. I've had many great "friendly" arguments with others who believe in Christ. After the discussions are over, we are still friends and allies for the causes we hold in common. Thanks again for a wonderful article.

    October 10, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • nympha

      It is a life or death issue for those who follow the Ch rist of the Holy Bible. If you don't believe in the fundamentals of who He is, what He did, then there is only death. Mormonism taking on the facade of Christianity means that so many will be deceived and not know Him on that last day. We are very worried for the salvation of the deceived and that is why we so vehemently resist the notion that the two are the same.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  4. keast

    Mormons art to Christians what Christians are to Jews. A "New" additional, revealed scripture. Not a cult maybe, but not Christian either

    October 10, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  5. Braise the Lard!

    The Baptist Church hasn't been around too much longer than the Mormon Church. The Baptist believe that once saved always saved. That means that after being saved, you can become a serial killer and still go to heaven to sing hymns with all of your victims, unless of course your victims were practicing a different religion, then they would be burning in hell for eternity. You're all nuts.

    October 10, 2011 at 1:13 am |
    • doggsho

      You're nuts for thinking that Baptist believe that nonsense .

      October 10, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • Braise the Lard!

      Trust me, I know.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  6. keast

    Bulls**t!

    October 10, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  7. thad

    Mitt Romney just as fake as the fake religion he is apart of until next week when he flip-flops his beliefs to get the G.O.P nomination. He'll be a southern baptist by the end of the week.

    October 10, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  8. Moztecka

    We need a time machein and a way to fuse minds...here me out... Go back in time grab Albert Pike and Ben Franklin...Fuse then together to make the political power house known as Pikelin and then put him in office. No more fuss on relgions. Separate religion from state.

    October 10, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  9. NewsRaider

    The bible clearly says john the baptist was the last prophet. And then we have john smith who is a false prophet. Mormonism is a cult and a disease.

    October 10, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"The bible clearly says john the baptist was the last prophet. "

      I thought Mohammad was the last Prophet.

      Wow...another example how those on the fringe sound so much alike. 🙂

      October 10, 2011 at 1:09 am |
    • Epimetheus

      John Smith? Don't you mean Joseph Smith? His claims are no less ludicrous or insane than those of Jesus, Muhammad, Moses. Whenever any religion calls another a cult, it is the pot calling the kettle black. They are all cults. And, their leaders are snake-oil salesmen and frauds of the worst degree.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • Dustin C

      You are familiar with neither the Bible nor Mormonism. If John the Baptist were the last prophet, what was John the Revelator doing? And the founder of Mormonism is Joseph Smith. John Smith founded Jamestown.

      My point is that most people who criticize Mormonism aren't familiar with it. And most of the tired, old criticisms have been laid to rest or cannot be settled without adopting a particular faith or no faith.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  10. CSM

    ONLY CULTS WOULD HAVE MAGIC UNDERWEAR AND BE SO SECRET TO NOT ALLOW OTHERS (meaning NON Mormons) INTO THEIR TEMPLES!

    October 10, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Question... Someone wrote that you can come to baptisms. Is there some part of the structure that you feel there should be open access too?

      October 10, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  11. Francis

    I rather have a Romney in the Presidency than any of the other Republicans, he is a moderate and as a good mormon, he wants the good for the people, not just mormons. Unlike Christians that are used by the Republican party, mormons have a wide sense of their duty with their fellow man. In that sense, Mormons are much better than any other cult. I am not a mormon, or any other religion workshipper. I just want to be able to get a job, and Democrats were in power for two years and did nothing. They deserve to be all voted out.

    October 10, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      That was pretty fair and balanced.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  12. flyfysher

    I don't care what the Evangelicals think. Their opinion is irrelevant to me.

    October 10, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • Hal

      And your opinion, sir, is irrelevant, period.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  13. Sircuts

    Joseph Smith was a convicted fraud too? LOL wow this just gets better and better....anyone who would buy this crap shouldn't be elected for dog warden let alone president....I Always knew they were weird and secretive but the book of mormon is seriously a blasphemous fairy tale....The more I look into the more I am shocked anyone would believe it...I would buy a UFO story before I believed that waste of print.

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

      You have most definitely NOT read the book of Mormon. You must be "looking into it," on anti mormon websites. Joseph Smith was not a convicted felon, but people who felt threatened and would not allow religious freedom took him captive, from his family and his home, and murdered him. He never denied his faith. He was willing to die for it. I'd advise you to visit http://www.lds.org or actually read the Book of Mormon before you go spouting off in ignorance.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • Ryan in Miami

      Don't know where you are getting your information, but Joseph Smith was never convicted of anything. He was charged with all kinds of crimes, but never convicted of anything. False charges and accusations were regularly used as methods of persecution against the newly founded church.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  14. Beelzebubba

    ALL religions are cults.

    October 10, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • Dave S

      Yep, and they know it; which is why each religion has to defend any other religion against such observations. But people LIKE cults. They (cults and their members) will always be with us, sad to say.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  15. JamesofFaith

    The professor observes, "I find Mormons to be more Christ-centered than they have been in the past." If this is true, it is simply the result of closer examination. Jesus Christ has always been at the very center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    October 10, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • Remember...

      Having Christ at the center of a religion doesn't make those people Christians. What makes people Christians is following the word of God.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • Jharis

      Because they have Christ at the center of their lives? I don't really think you can have without the other.

      October 10, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  16. HZ

    my take: all religions are cult

    October 10, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • Remember...

      It's great you have the freedom to believe what you believe. As a Christian, I'm glad we have that freedom. I'm also sad that if you're wrong, eternity is an awful long time because you think you know the right answer. What did Clint say... "Do you feel lucky?" You also probably play the lottery.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:19 am |
    • So

      "because you think you know the right answer. "

      Obviously you do so where is your proof that this god actually exists without using the bible.

      October 10, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  17. Francis

    All those religions are cults, the catholic, christians, evangelists, mormons, etc. They remind me the Greek mithology because they are all the same, a mithology.

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

      Hey, Francis. Learn how to spell.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  18. lloyd roberts

    I can't believe this discussion is going on in the 21st century in the United States of America. We are almost no different than 8th century Islamic thinking like in present day Afghanistan, except that we are more civilized. This has risen to an insane level and the average American should not take this religious right dominated republican primary fiasco as anything other than theocracy

    October 10, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  19. SusanC

    I am not Mormon, but have several friends who are. I have found Mormons to be very decent, civic minded people. They are very conservative, not my cup of tea, but they are the first people to offer to help a community in trouble. Not sure if Mitt could separate his religious beliefs as president, but do appreciate my friend's willingness to help others regardless of their religious affiliation.

    October 10, 2011 at 12:57 am |
    • Beelzebubba

      Mitt is good at helping himself. He doesn't really care about anyone else.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • Remember...

      There were lots of great people who were also involved in WW2 on both sides but people make mistakes. This isn't about who is a good person. Cults are often led by amazing people. If you are talking about what makes a Christian, there is an authority. It's called the Bible. Can't change it. If you are a Christian, read the book. Don't listen to false teachers.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:07 am |
    • Remember...

      There were lots of great people who were also involved in WW2 on both sides but people make mistakes. This isn't about who is a good person. Cults are often led by amazing people. If you are talking about what makes a Christian, there is an authority. It's called the Bible. Can't change it. If you are a Christian, read the book.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • Jharis

      Oh wait except the Bible does change(NIV, KJV), and its not even complete. Study the dead sea scrolls or maybe even some ancient history while your at it. Or maybe the old testament, I know it wasn't written by Christians as you would believe or understand so you probably haven't got passed Genesis, maybe Exodus. And maybe while your at it start thinking for yourself and not base everything you know off of what your pastor tells you. Your about as brain washed as the Mormons you call a "cult" are.

      October 10, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  20. Suzydrew

    Unafiliated--Your vitriol states only Mormons are peace-loving, family oriented tax paying citizens-Please ! This country wasn't founded by Mormons

    October 10, 2011 at 12:56 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.