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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. Mirosal

    All religions are false. The more you believe in it, the more gullible you really are.

    October 10, 2011 at 3:06 am |
  2. SixDegrees

    This is all very nice to hear, but Mr. Mouw is sadly an exception to the message of bigotry, hatred and intolerance spewed daily from the pulpits of evangelical churches across the land and aimed broadly at anyone who strays even a whit from their own rigid doctrines. They stand only a hair's breadth away from the Taliban in outlook, differing only in tactics but every bit as determined to force all citizens to adhere to their preachings through force of law.

    October 10, 2011 at 3:01 am |
  3. Yes

    I'm a Mormon and am use to the term cult. In fact I'm use to everyone from outside the mormon faith always telling me what I do and don't believe 🙂 check this site out for the truth about Mormons Mormon.org.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • Sircuts

      more like a moron

      October 10, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • Don

      @Sircuts
      Really? What did that reply accomplish. Please contribute something intelligent to the blog before wasting your precious energy acting like a child at recess and just name calling those that are different from you....thanks

      October 10, 2011 at 3:01 am |
    • Yes

      Point made.

      October 10, 2011 at 3:04 am |
    • Sircuts

      Mormon.org ...I just followed you're link and it says Joseph Smith is a prophet of god ....... Blasphemy anyone reading this can go to that site and click the "Joseph Smith" link....a convicted fraud and known chile molester...he had 28 wifes ...including 2 14 year olds and 16 year olds...

      October 10, 2011 at 3:04 am |
    • Sircuts

      anyone speading this poison is not just a blaspheme but truly a sinner

      October 10, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • Yes

      Since you just went to the site does that now qualify you as a sinner? Is there anymore beliefs of mine you would like to clarify? I just want to figure out what I believe

      October 10, 2011 at 3:10 am |
    • SixDegrees

      "he had 28 wifes ...including 2 14 year olds and 16 year olds"

      Uh – so what? That description applies to pretty much every major character in the Bible, although some of them had even more and even younger wives. Your objection on these grounds, coupled with your charge of blasphemy, simply fall apart into the ridiculous if this is your foundational argument.

      October 10, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • Know What

      Sircuts, Please reveal your sect... so that we all might have equal opportunity to rip it to shreds!

      October 10, 2011 at 3:14 am |
  4. lane

    @NewMexicoMan

    "this scroll" is in reference to the book of revelations itself, since the new testament was not completed and compiled into one "scroll" or book until hundreds of years after the book of revelations was written.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:53 am |
  5. Don

    @Peytonator
    Mat 7:16 "By their fruits ye shall know them..."
    I'm sure there are plenty of evangelicals, catholics, jw's, mormons, etc. that profess a belief in Jesus Christ but their actions don't represent that belief, regardless of theology. I know plenty of people of different faiths and some I categorize as Christians and some I don't, just based on the way they pattern (or fail to pattern) their lives after that of Jesus Christ....not purely based on theology

    October 10, 2011 at 2:53 am |
  6. JakeN

    My father was Mormon and I was raised in Utah. Believe me, Mormons are a cult. Best thing I ever did was get my family out of there.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • Sircuts

      hmmm that says it all

      October 10, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • skytag

      @Sircuts: "hmmm that says it all"

      Hardly. It's one person's opinion.

      October 10, 2011 at 3:01 am |
  7. MarvinP

    When push comes to shove....Mormons will never allow themselves to be persecuted and murdered by the thousands again as they were in the Eastern UNited States from 1820 – 1850. They will stand up to all to protect their religion and to protect their own freedom and liberty! Get the hint!!!

    October 10, 2011 at 2:52 am |
  8. Daggz

    I have to put my foot down when people say that Mormons don't believe in or follow Jesus Christ's teachings. You can laugh and snicker at many of their beliefs and practices, but knowing many Mormons for many years, and studying their beliefs and actions, one thing is very apparent and undoubtedly true... that they center their religion on Jesus and the god of Abraham as written in the King James Bible. Mormons are Christians. Anyone who says differently is just parroting what their ignorant hate filled pastures told them. You can say they are a cult, an anti-christ religion, or whatever, all you want, but you can not say that with any authority. Anyone who has actually investigated this religion through legitimate scholarly references and original materials can not say they are anything but Christian. Anyone that has simply goggled Mormonism and read a couple anti-Mormon websites must not ignorantly accept that information as complete fact as you are only doing yourselves a disservice. As truth and fiction are separated, the Mormons will be accepted as Christians eventually. Try attending one of their weekly services, read their Book of Mormon or any of their other literary works such as "Jesus the Christ" and then see how silly it is to claim that Mormons are not Christian. The official name of their religion is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" after all...

    October 10, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Sircuts

      I tried to read the Book of Mormon...kinda hard to get past the part with the "founder" claiming to have talked to god and been given a book of gold pages with a story about Jesus in America...Poison Fiction

      October 10, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Yes

      Is that really that much harder to believe then a story about a guy talking to a burning bush on the side of a mountain then parting a giant sea with a staff to lead people to safety. I thought Christian were a people who believe in a god who cares enough to preform miracles.

      October 10, 2011 at 3:02 am |
    • Daggz

      @Sircuts, tried and did are not the same. But at least you admit that your knowledge of Mormons comes not from Mormon literature but from unverified sources?

      October 10, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • skytag

      @Sircuts: "I tried to read the Book of Mormon...kinda hard to get past the part with the "founder" claiming to have talked to god and been given a book of gold pages with a story about Jesus in America...Poison Fiction"

      You sound brainwashed. Who are you to decide what God would or wouldn't do? Do you have proof God didn't tell someone or some people to keep a record on gold plates?

      It seems to me that if you had access to gold it would make perfect sense to use it this way. It doesn't corrode, it won't rot, and it's soft, which would make inscribing characters on it easy. And there are examples of records written on gold plates, though not many, they do exist.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2939362.stm

      Mind you, I'm an atheist, so I think every religion is a set of beliefs people embrace to help them feel better about one more more things, but once you choose to believe in God — a God on whom no constraints are placed — then as they say, all things are possible, even a record on golden plates.

      Frankly, you don't seem like very Christ-like person, so if you're a Christian, you kind of suck at it.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  9. Bill

    Looking at these post and how much hatred is being thrown around this pastor must be pretty "Christian" to be the cause of all this.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:46 am |
  10. Central Scrutinizer

    My fellow Americans! Take up the cause. Phuck the mormons and christians and Islam, etc. Let truth guide you! We are running out of time. The country and the world is falling apart!! It is up to US!!

    Until such time as an Atheist, an Agnostic, an openly ho-mose-xual person, or any other minority can be seriously considered for political office, particularly the presidency, then I hang my head in shame as an American. Sure, Obama is half black and that is a step. But where are the Asians, Africans, Mexicans, Gays, Atheists, Agnostics and all other minorities? Scr-ew the Christians! Let some intelligent folks move the country forward for a change. The Christian Right are liars, cheats, thieves and charlatans. The Dems just lie to fit in. Americans, let’s take back our country! The time is now! Call out the politicians on their lies. Call out the banks on their thievery. Take Wall Street money away from the politicians. Smart people in Congress, that should be our mantra, Carry on with common sense or we are doo-med. It is up to us to remove them!

    October 10, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"Sure, Obama is half black"

      Who are you George Jefferson talking about Lionel's wife Jenny?

      October 10, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      I have sent this post three times. No one has argued it. Will anyone present an argument, or will you do your part and help save this country/world? Please help.

      October 10, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • SixDegrees

      No one has replied because 1) you're spamming and 2) your rant isn't worthy of reply. When everyone turns their back on you, it isn't a sign of acceptance.

      October 10, 2011 at 3:04 am |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      @six degrees
      Ok, why don't you respond to my post? It is clear and concise and iis certainly not spam. Standing by for your intelligent reply,

      October 10, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • skytag

      What you have here looks like a rant, and rants don't really invite people to discuss anything because rants generally indicate the person is just venting, so the lack of replies is not surprising. And it doesn't help that the tone is kind of obnoxious.

      October 10, 2011 at 3:30 am |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      @six degrees
      k, I will answer for you. You are a bigot. You can’t respond to my post without revealing that you are you are a right wing bigot who discriminates against minorities. You are, in fact, the problem with this country. You know it and I know it. People like you suck.

      October 10, 2011 at 3:33 am |
    • skytag

      @Central Scrutinizer: "k, I will answer for you. You are a bigot. You can’t respond to my post without revealing that you are you are a right wing bigot who discriminates against minorities. You are, in fact, the problem with this country. You know it and I know it. People like you suck."

      You obviously have issues. Seek professional help. Ranting and attacking total strangers online will not help you overcome your issues. You can't rationally conclude any of your allegations from anything SixDegrees said. People like you suck.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:22 am |
  11. Don

    It's too bad that the term "cult" is so loosely thrown around. Just because Mormonism is different from certain mainstream Christian points-of-view doesn't mean that it should be classified as a cult. I've seen plenty of seemingly bizarre things go on in a plethora of different faiths' worship services but I don't classify them as "cults," they just have a different way of trying to get closer to God then I do.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:43 am |
  12. Doug

    They are all cults. Some are bigger than others is all. Doug.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:43 am |
  13. Benjamin in Cali

    Cult it is!

    How is it not possible mormons are not cult??

    Matthew 19:24

    I'll say it again–it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!"

    mormons own so many businesses...just WTH??

    October 10, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • MirrorMonolith

      I'm a Benjamin too, in Colo. This is a narrow-minded statement you've made. I'll call it out. But I'll also level with you. The scripture you quoted says it is "easier" to pass through the eye of a needle, not "impossible". There is no ambiguity in this verse. It is identifying the scale of the challenge to enter the gates of heaven, and it tackles a specific group that is commonly prone to greed and excess. Greater wealth requires a greater diligence and responsibility with that wealth to live humbly and generously. Servanthood requires sacrifice, and shedding your excessive riches puts you in a good position to understand and practice servanthood, but can a rich man not serve too?

      You're other statement about mormons owning businesses... that's just a big fail. Sorry man, just too silly.

      October 10, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  14. MarvinP

    For those of you who cant stand Romney because he is a member of the LDS Church, well get used to it because you are looking at the future PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!! yessssssssssss!!

    October 10, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • Benjamin in Cali

      In your wet dream..

      I am OK with half white president...mormons? hell no!! not in this century!!

      October 10, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • Sircuts

      Yea right maybe he can find a few cult wackos but mainstream America don't believe in cults found by child molesters who blaspheme the name of the lord. Even Bringum Young was a polygimist and child molester so you need a better endorsement then that..In fact if he doesn't denounce his "cult" religion that means he endorses child abuse and deceit in the name of god....Quite a sin.. Maybe they can erase racism and polygamy from The Book Of Mormon but not from history...

      October 10, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • Sircuts Jr.

      Sircuts, you and Mom were cousins and had me when you were an adult and she was a pre-teen, why are you being a hypocrite?!

      Just because we are anti-Mormon, anti-Gay, anti-Black and Southern Baptists doesn't mean we should hate pedophiles does it?

      October 10, 2011 at 3:09 am |
  15. Dikran

    Proof that a layperson with a Bible is a better trained preacher and Evangelical than this idiot.

    For those of you that were thinking about wasting precious money and years studying at Fuller in Pasadena I suggest you keep your money and just get a study bible instead or go to another university as this one is obviously tainted by Mormon gold.

    And despite what you say....idiot...Mormonism is a cult,

    October 10, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • Don

      "idiot" really? Are you still in elementary school? If you're going to get online like a big boy and analyze articles, please act like an adult and at least sound somewhat intelligent....you lose credibility when all you do is name call and belittle. Try being at least a little bit respectful and open-minded of people that don't think exactly as you do...

      October 10, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • skytag

      Your comment is obnoxious. Does your "real" Christianity inspire you to be obnoxious like this?

      October 10, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  16. Harry Kermet

    Thousands of ex-Mormons cannot be wrong or ignored. This is a cult. Anyone who thinks otherwise is in denial.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • Erin

      The LDS church has more than 14 million people all over the world. That can't be ignored either.

      October 10, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  17. theXmormon

    You "accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior" but you arent ready to define them as Christian? So to be a Christian they have to believe exactly what you believe? How shallow. Its too bad your both following false religions (you and your mormon friends) and are wasting your live worciping your imaginary friend. But if it make you feel better about the unknown believe what you want to believe.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  18. Central Scrutinizer

    My fellow Americans! Take up the cause. Phuck the mormons and christians and Islam, etc. Let truth guide you! We are running out of time. The country and the world is falling apart!! It is up to US!!

    Until such time as an Atheist, an Agnostic, an openly ho-mose-xual person, or any other minority can be seriously considered for political office, particularly the presidency, then I hang my head in shame as an American. Sure, Obama is half black and that is a step. But where are the Asians, Africans, Mexicans, Gays, Atheists, Agnostics and all other minorities? Scr-ew the Christians! Let some intelligent folks move the country forward for a change. The Christian Right are liars, cheats, thieves and charlatans. The Dems just lie to fit in. Americans, let’s take back our country! The time is now! Call out the politicians on their lies. Call out the banks on their thievery. Take Wall Street money away from the politicians. Smart people in Congress, that should be our mantra, Carry on with common sense or we are doo-med. It is up to us to remove them!

    October 10, 2011 at 2:31 am |
  19. MarvinP

    What a great article Richard Gouw!! Wonderfully done.

    October 10, 2011 at 2:31 am |
  20. R Burns

    If you want to truly compare Mormonism with Christianity, you must first begin with knowledge of the way it works from within. There are reasons Mormon meetings and temple rites are closed to outsiders! Sitting in a room for long periods of time while being given the PR answers for outsiders does not give this author or any other a true picture, and yes, there is a huge difference! Believe those who relate leaving the Mormon church after sometimes years of intense involvement, after they came to grips with the stark differences not only between what they were told to expect and what actually came to be as they were allowed deeper and deeper into the organization, but between Mormon teachings and the message Christ gave the world. Having a solid moral basis and belief in the 10 commandments, and mouthing support for Jesus as one's saviour, does not make one a Christian. I know there are many Mormons who are real Christians, but the religion as a whole does not support the teachings of Christ in too many ways to make it authentic. This author has caved to the information carefully handed him, in the same trusting manner that so many "investigators" do. It's just what the Mormon leadership wanted, and here it is being read by the world. Way to go!

    October 10, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • skytag

      You sound like a member of a cult yourself. I'm always amazed at the arrogance of "orthodox" Christians who take it upon themselves to declare whether another religion is Christian or not. So much for not judging people, eh? As one who spent 40 years of his life as a practicing Christian I am well aware that you have no proof that your beliefs are any more true or correct than those of the Mormons. You have your myths, they have their myths, and a lot of those myths overlap.

      I don't recall anywhere in the Bible where it tells anyone to go around telling people they aren't Christians. For what it's worth, it was people such as yourself that helped me realize Christianity was a fraud.

      October 10, 2011 at 2:45 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.