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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. laydy

    Mormonism is a cult because they believe in a different Jesus. And they have a different Bible.

    October 10, 2011 at 4:37 am |
    • Andrew

      The Old Testament warns of false prophets. Thus, the Jews, "the Children of Abraham", while recognizing Christ as "a (minor) prophet", condemned him for mainly political reasons–going against the (religious) establishment, the claim that he was the Son of God (cf. Orthodox theology, where He is known as the Son of Man), etc. Muslims recognize Abraham as their "founding father", but refused to be associated with the Jews, so followed the prophet Mohammed. Later in the story came the Mormons, whose founder decided that HE held the ultimate truth...(tho' giving lip service to Christ as an important prophet....but not quite as great as Joseph Smith).
      RESULT: THE JEWS ARE THE BASIS OF MONO-THEISM AND HOLD THE LINE AGAINST THE PROPHETS (BY DEFINITION "FALSE") COOKED UP BY VARIOUS POPULATIONS, OFTEN FOR POLITICAL REASONS. Evangelical Christians are, for the most part, a mish-mash of 'souls wandering in the desert' of the unWesternized American continent and dependent on whatever charlatan who knew how to manipulate a group by offering "absolute guarantees" thru simplistic "truths": We're right, everyone who doesn't think (and act!) like us is going to burn in hell. FALSE PROPHETS ON EVERY STREETCORNER...INCLUDING JOSEPH SMITH. Electing a Roman Catholic was hard at the time; has America devolved to the point that it is willing to accept a disciple of Joseph Smith? How about a Buddhist? A Muslim (oops!)?

      October 10, 2011 at 5:22 am |
    • Omega

      Next thing you know America will vote for someone who has half a brain and accepts the truth that a magical man in the sky that turns people to dust but yet loves you doesn't really exist.

      October 10, 2011 at 5:30 am |
  2. Jay Vaughan

    This is a PR fluff piece designed to muddy the conversation about religious influences in American politics. Its long since past due time that we Americans address the issue of religious influences in our politics: it is pretty clear that the influence has *NOT* been positive, lately. Whatever denomination you choose to belong to: CITIZENSHIP is the higher order. Without citizens you cannot have a space safe enough to form *any* church, popular or otherwise ..

    October 10, 2011 at 4:37 am |
    • Sircuts

      I am just glad this was bought to my attention..I liked Mitt Romney till I found out he supports such a backwards cult based on hate and perversion.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:39 am |
    • Sircuts

      When Mitt Romney denounces Joseph Smith as a pedophile, racist and a false prophet then I will know he is Christian.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:42 am |
    • Robert Burns

      http://rwburns3rd.hubpages.com/hub/Atheist-Want-Proof-I-Say-Prove-Christianity-Wrong

      October 10, 2011 at 4:55 am |
  3. Thomas

    Wow, Joseph Smith a christian? When you die you get your own planet with all these thousands of wives? Are you guys serious?
    The man was a pedophile just like Muhammad. He married Aisha when she was 6 years old. Is he God's prophet also?
    Don't you people read history at all? It's all there. Google it.
    Satan will do anything to make you go away from the salvation of Jesus Christ. He died the most horrible death for you, and you are running to the demonic cults to find the truth. The truth is Jesus Christ and it's time my friend to open the bible. It's all there.
    The coming of the Messiah was God's plan to save us. Sin cannot go to God and has to be wiped out. Jesus did just that.

    He took it away from you, so you can face God again. Just like when you were a baby. You must do what we all did:

    We called him to our lives to show us the truth. like magic, he appears to you, and when the understanding comes, you know that he was the one calling you all those years. Don't play deaf any more. Call him, for your family's sake. He will show you the way to
    heaven. Joseph Smith and Charles Russell are liars just like Muhammad and the others. The truth is in the bible. See for yourself.

    If you ask him, he will open the heavens for you. That is what he does best.

    October 10, 2011 at 4:34 am |
    • Sircuts

      Good point...why would you create a new religion if you claim to be Christian? Especially when the bible says "take no false idols" many will claim to be a prophet....and they will blaspheme

      October 10, 2011 at 4:38 am |
  4. R. Stavale

    By Mouw's definition; arguably all religions that claim devine inspiration are cults.

    "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"

    October 10, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • Sir Crispin

      Here here, I was about to say the same thing.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:47 am |
  5. Sircuts

    “‘The skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression.’ (Alma 3:6) . . .
    “The Book of Mormon goes so far as to teach that if the Lamanites truly repented of their wickedness, the visible proof would be their skin once again turning white:

    “‘And the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be declared among them; wherefore, they shall be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers...and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people.’

    October 10, 2011 at 4:25 am |
    • Sircuts

      all black people listen up....according to the Mormon religion.....you are black only because of your evil and sin...The Book Of Mormon says if you repent you will turn white and be pure...this is what Mitt Romney believes

      October 10, 2011 at 4:27 am |
    • Sircuts

      Not to mention it was written by a child molester claiming to be a prophet of god.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      "All black people listen up....".... http://www.blacklds.org/

      There yah go dude. You keep setting them up I will keep knocking them down ....well for another ten minutes....gotta go to bed 🙂

      October 10, 2011 at 4:38 am |
  6. PraveenIndia

    Which religion by the way is not a cult? The definition of cult matches exactly what practicing religious groups do.

    October 10, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  7. PraveenIndia

    Please tell me a religion that is not a cult.

    From dictionary.com: cult   /kʌlt/ Spelled[kuhlt]

    1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
    2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
    3. the object of such devotion.
    4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
    5. Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

    October 10, 2011 at 4:21 am |
  8. Tom

    What is the difference between Christianity and Mormonism again? And Islam for that matter? Different prophets, same idea: we've got the correct insight and things will go badly for you here or in the afterlife unless you join us. Religion is simply a parallel avenue to power. Sigh.

    October 10, 2011 at 4:21 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"same idea: we've got the correct insight and things will go badly for you here or in the afterlife unless you join us. "

      Yes, we know what to do with our oil and precious metals under your country... and things will go very very badly for you ...unless you join us and give us what we want.

      See, yah do not need speck of Religions and it all comes down to the same idea ....power.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:43 am |
  9. Mirosal

    I'm still waiting for ANY Mormon to explain why their cult is honest and true, given the fact that good ol' Mr. Smith was a fraud who purposely desinged a "faith" that he knew was against the grain of the cultists (other mainstream religions) of the time. Oh, and will any Mormon please tell me, why you folow the words of a racist pedophile? guess I'll be waiting a LONG LONG time won't I ?

    October 10, 2011 at 4:20 am |
    • thissalantine

      Yes, they teach they are the 'ONE TRUE RELIGION' and that everyone who does not believe is evil. Sound familiar? *coughcoughMuslimextremismcoughcough*

      October 10, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  10. Robert Burns

    If Mormons are Christians as so many of them in this thread claim to be, then why do they call themselves Mormons and not Christians? Thats like saying you're a New Yorker but your from Florida. People who are Christians are called only that.

    October 10, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Going to get back with you on that one. Soon as my side decides if we are Colored, Black, or African American.

      It's just a name, that they have Jesus Christ in their name should be enough.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:23 am |
    • Robert Burns

      Just a name? Should be enough? Enough for what? If it's just a name you are implying that a name is not important. Who's name is on your driver's license? If you showed the cops a license with someone else's name would your response be "it's just a name" I have a license in my pocket that should be enough?

      October 10, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • Robert Burns

      Satan himself believes in Jesus Christ. That alone doesn't make him a Christian.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:29 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>”Enough for what?”

      Enough, that I feel that most people accept that they are just another denomination of Christianity. If you do not, I am pretty sure they do not care and pretty much the rest of the country probably does not care.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:33 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"That alone doesn't make him a Christian."

      What do you feel makes a person a Christian then and do you feel that everyone should cater to your definition to describe their group?

      October 10, 2011 at 4:35 am |
    • Robert Burns

      It's not my definition of a Christian, it's Christ's. A denomination by definition can not be Christianity no more than a dime can be a dollar. Its a denomination of it but it aint it.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:38 am |
    • Robert Burns

      You can be from New York and call yourself a Floridian all day long. That still doesn't mean that you are just because you want to say it or change its definition. A Christian is a follower of Christ, period. Not of anyone else or any other teaching. Christ said there is one Lord and ONE faith and one baptism. Half of these other religions or denominations started (meaning they didn't exist) until over 1000 years AFTER Christianity started.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:42 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>”You can be from New York and call yourself a Floridian all day long. That still doesn't mean that you are just because you want to say it or change its definition. “

      http://www.floridanewyork.com/index.asp

      Florida a quaint, warm and friendly village was incorporated in 1946. With its’ tree lined street, it is located in the town of Warwick, Orange County, the village had a total population of 2571 in the 2000 census.
      The Village offers a public library, a police force, volunteer fire department, several places of worship and both public and private schools. With an active Chamber of Commerce, the downtown is a busy beehive with a variety of thriving, independently owned businesses.
      Florida with the convergence of Route 17A, 25 and 94 providing easy access to major highways combined with a thriving farming community is the ideal escape for the city life.

      ~ Hey Robert.....looks like you can be from New York and be called a a Floridian. 🙂

      October 10, 2011 at 4:49 am |
    • Robert Burns

      Ok Mark, not even sure what that means but replace New York with Antartica then maybe you'll get my point. (it amuses me that you took that effort to not prove your point though)

      October 10, 2011 at 4:53 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Robert, no effort to shoot down your Florida / New York point.

      The point is that each of us defines a bit what it means to us to be a Christian. The issue is that they identify Jesus Christ as the same James from our Bible. They use the same Bible but add a new testament. From their sites they quote from the Bible. For me, I feel differently than you and I think they are Christians.

      yaaawwn....its late.

      l'Chaim.

      October 10, 2011 at 5:03 am |
    • myklds

      @Robert

      FYI..It's the other religions/people who are branding as Mormons, maybe because of the book the we belive as the second testament of Jesus Christ.

      We call ourselves as Latter Day Saints [LDS (NOT FLDS)]. We believe the Bible as the word of God. We believe Jesus Christ as our saviour Lord a the Redeemer. We are monogamous; we give high regard and treat our Young Women and Relief Society with utmost respect and love we have black brethren who is holding (high) positions in the church.

      October 10, 2011 at 5:04 am |
  11. Al Ritter

    Only Lutherans and Calvinists can really say theirs are true Christian churches, which were from after the schism from the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. All others are sects, including the southern Baptist churches which have so many sub churches classes as well. The main religions of the world are Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism, The rest are minor religions, specially those which about in our country – the USA – like confetti, and mainly as money making machines.

    October 10, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • Robert Burns

      Al please see my comment above. What are you basing this off of? People were first called Christians in Antioch in the AD 30's. When did the lutheran church start?

      October 10, 2011 at 4:19 am |
    • Tom

      Wow. You're really breaking it down for us here. Thanks.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:36 am |
    • Robert Burns

      Al Ritter, I'll give you a hint, it was a long time after that.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:47 am |
  12. Sircuts

    Mitt Romney's satanic Cult religion claims a child molester who claimed blacks were "inferior" and evil is a prophet of god

    October 10, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • Jim

      Man, we had better get rid of that Morman Harry Reed ASAP!!!

      October 10, 2011 at 4:20 am |
  13. Steven Brooks

    Of course it is – it's based on the unfounded ravings of a lunatic mind, and thousands have been killed supporting it.

    Oh, wait... Replace thousands with millions and you have any of the other Judeo-Christian madnesses that infect this planet.

    They are are cults – such a term is not limited to something with a small following, after all.

    October 10, 2011 at 4:04 am |
    • Steven Brooks

      "All are", rather...

      October 10, 2011 at 4:07 am |
    • Sircuts

      yes....you may be right! The fact is...Mitt Romney's religion claims a child molester who claimed blacks were "inferior" and evil is a prophet of god

      October 10, 2011 at 4:16 am |
  14. Sircuts

    Not just any cult...a cult that worships a fraudulent child molester who classifies blacks as inferior and unintelligent...170 of racist Mormon books can not be re wrote in a year

    October 10, 2011 at 4:01 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"who classifies blacks as inferior...."

      How many of our founding fathers would be guilty of the same. They could not or did not want to free the slaves even when at that time they were trying to be free from England.

      You can not judge ones from the past by todays morals and values.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:09 am |
    • Sircuts

      That is like saying if you joined the KKK , you support their views ....what an idiot

      October 10, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"That is like saying if you joined the KKK ,"

      Hmm... Obama the first African American president.... and me the first African American Grand Wizard....

      Naaah.... 🙂

      Sircuts, it is something that you can not escape. Your ax with the Mormons is silly if you just go by what was accepted or even frowned upon actions in the past. We honor how many folks.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:20 am |
  15. HELLOWAKEUP

    Can you say fanatic crazy person? Perry shot himself in the foot with this one. Why do they invite pastors and frekish people to vouch for them? They should invite smart people who know actual facts about things. Not believes in ghosts and spirits.

    October 10, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  16. Mirosal

    Dante, there is no such thing as a "true church". Youre telling us to go to a site that is nothing but propoganda for their cause. If you really want to know history, you MUST read it from different points of view. You want to study American history? Fine. But then read it from the Native American's point of view. You can read all about WW2 from the British, Russian, and American writers. Try reading it from the German's point of view abouty how they thought and believed their cause was "just". Can you refute the fact that your founder, as a grown man, married teeenage girls? I didn't think so. Your founder was a pedophile and you follow his teachings!!! So who is the fool? The orginal fool or the fool who thinks the original is right?

    October 10, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Sircuts

      The fool is the one who supports Romney

      October 10, 2011 at 3:58 am |
  17. Rice

    Well, if everyone invented their own definition of what a cult is, then practically any religion/religious belief can be considered a cult. From a Christian's perspective, if any belief system contradicts with anything within the fundamental beliefs as stated in the Apostle's Creed, then that belief system is a cult, no matter how open or secluded they are.

    October 10, 2011 at 3:51 am |
    • Sircuts

      you may be right but this cult worships a pedophile

      October 10, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  18. Sircuts

    I am truly sorry all you Romney supporters no longer have a candidate you can support and all your effort was a waste of time I am sure that is upsetting...but don't defend him you might want to consider what you are defending

    October 10, 2011 at 3:50 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Sad dude... I heard there was medication shortage but I didn't think that we would see the effects so quickly until I read your post. 🙂

      October 10, 2011 at 3:53 am |
    • Sircuts

      keep defending him it is a lost cause...unless of course you support child molestation and racism as well?

      October 10, 2011 at 4:03 am |
    • seepm

      Wow this is fun to watch....the extreme religious right is being forced to choose between either 4 more years of leftist liberal gay supporting Obama, or having to vote for a guy who they've been taught their whole live's in sunday school belongs to a polygamous satanic worshiping cult. The funny thing is (something i though i would never see) the right is actually starting to plug their noses and actually support romney! In other words gay supporting leftists are bad but satan worshiping polygamous cult guy ok because at least he won't raise taxes, The comical ironies never cease with the conservatives in this country.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:06 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"keep defending him it is a lost cause...unless of course you support child molestation and racism as well?"

      Hmm...I am not Mormon but I do know that there are a lot of folks in the past that did some pretty messed up things by today's standards and it would be silly for me to judge them by our standards today.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:13 am |
  19. exmormon dot org

    Go check out the plethora of personal stories here (exmormon dot org), and see what you think. Would you like your future president to proclaim loyalty to this sort of organization?

    October 10, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Sircuts

      Thanks for the link I am glad this is finally being exposed

      October 10, 2011 at 4:05 am |
  20. Mirosal

    @ Freethinkers2001 ... remember, philosophy is all about questions that may never have answers. Religion is all about the answers you may never question.

    October 10, 2011 at 3:49 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.