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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. stoky

    Fuller Seminary has been going dow the heresy sink for a long time now. Perhaps Mr Mou will now wear mormon underwear and hopefully backwards so that there are no more Mous to feed.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  2. Reality

    Mormonism will slowly fade from society as will contemporary Christianity and Islam because of the obvious problems with the founders of these religions especially their angelic/satanic hallucinations and related prophecies. "Pretty and ugly wingie and horn-blowing Moroni thingies" simply do/did not exist.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • Joxer the Mighty

      I find it interesting that you think this not because of any facts you have, but because your world view says these things can not exist. You are no more scientific than a Christian IMO.

      October 10, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Reality

      It is called the Infamous Angelic Con:

      Joe Smith had his Moroni.

      Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

      Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

      Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

      The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.
      Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.
      Some added references to "tink-erbells".

      "Latter-day Saints also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

      Apparently hallu-cinations did not stop with Joe Smith.

      newadvent.org/cathen/07049c.htm

      "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."

      Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

      "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."
      And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

      "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."
      "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

      "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

      October 10, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  3. reddog

    My God's better than your God. My God's better than yours. My God's better 'cause He...........(fill in the blank). (Apologies to KenL Ration) Wanna fight about it???

    October 10, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  4. Steve

    What's the point in arguing about this? Boil it down and you have differing stories about supernatural beings that were invented to make humans feel better about death. These stories were invented in different points of time ranging from prehistoric man to prophets in "bible days", to Joesph Smith, to L.Ron Hubbard.

    Some of yous eem to be saying that the people that invented stories about YOUR Jesus are better or knew more than people like the guy with the "seer stones" and gold plates. Think about that for a minute. Do you really want to put those stories up against each other?

    I don't have a problem with believers – I can understand the need. I generally keep my atheism to myself and avoid those personal discussions. But my problem comes in when people are ridiculed for a certain belief when others who believe practically the same thing are heralded as intellectuals and somehow "better" or "smarter".

    How does that work?

    October 10, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  5. The Grizz

    I just can't believe what I read here. This guy needs to go back and read his Bible. It should be questioned if Fuller Theological Seminary is really a Christian school. Mormonism is a cult and always has been ... a different teaching to lead people away.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • hokahey

      It's not Christian. It's Evangelical-the cult of "Do what I say, not what I do".

      October 10, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  6. Mirosal

    So which of the crazy psychotic "christian" sects thinks this planet, and the universe in general, is only 6000 years old?

    October 10, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  7. Little

    Shouldn't commenting be disabled for this article? All I see is pathetic comments by people with the reading level of a fourth grader.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  8. Tracey

    The origins of this religion is cultic. The idea of marrying multiple women to attain god status is ungodly, according to the Holy Bible. Your premise is not based on the Bible.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  9. reddog

    All this discussion about religion when it's obvious that the one true god that the GOP worships is mammon.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  10. AtheistSteve

    There are as many different christian beliefs as there are christians. Ever wonder why God agrees totally with the beliefs YOU hold as true. Nowhere is this more evident in the statements made by heisalive when he/she claims christianity is a relationship and not a religion. You are supposed to be guided by the personal relationship you have with Jesus, which by definition means you are listening to yourself. Of course you will agree with yourself. Convenient too how this arrangement lets you defer responsibility to this imaginary persona when things get sticky. Ultimately it's just a big cop-out for people who can't deal with life on their own terms and lets them pass the buck to their God to excuse them for being bigots.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  11. dtea

    This kind of stuff makes me glad I'm an atheist.

    IMO this article shows what a joke religion is. I can see how people could believe in Christianity. Mormonism however has such a ridiculous fake story with fake places that it makes absolutely no sense. Places in the Bible STILL exist. There is nowhere in the Mormon texts that is a real place here on Earth. Mormonism is like Scientology's slightly less retarded brother.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • chaz8181

      AMEN BROTHER.. OR SISTER..THANK GOODNESS FOR JEFFERSON AND THE FOUNDERS..WE STILL HAVE FREEDOM OF OR FROM RELIGION .. WE CAN THANK THE "ENLIGHTENMENT" PHILOSOPHERS AS WELL.

      October 10, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  12. AKC

    Sorry, but as someone who used to live in a state HEAVILY populated by Mormons (and not Utah), I have to disagree. I am an agnostic, so I say to each his own when it comes to belief; but I was very bothered by the Mormon Church and its' practices. The people seemed to be slightly brain washed and didn't seem to be able to think for themselves without consulting church leaders. That combined that the secrecy of the church and its rituals sure do seem cult-like to me.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • myklds

      We as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, firmly believe in Christ as the only Begotten Son of our Heavenly Father, Saviour and the redeemer.

      October 10, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  13. Travis

    Stop blurring the lines and making grey areas for there are none. If its not right its wrong, not mostly right.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  14. Jt_flyer

    You have to wonder why god would wait 2000 years to finally create the 'real' religion. I guess he wanted a lot people to burn in he'll.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  15. Al Dente

    Romney and other Mormons believe that Jesus came to earth from a distant planet and smoked weed. SHOCKING: http://www.spnheadlines.com/2011/07/republican-religions-raise-ruckus.html

    October 10, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • Harlemite

      That is not true. Mormons don't believe this nonsense.

      October 12, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  16. joe334243

    Mormons deny Jesus Christ is God.
    Mormons believe in works based salvation.
    Mormons believe that they become gods of planets.

    These are fundamental truths that go against God's word and the beliefs of Christianity. Mormons are clearly not Christians. Whether or not Mormonism is a cult maybe a semantic definition. However, if Mormons continue to worship a god created in their image, a god to suit their needs, even though they call him Jesus Christ, that does not mean they are worshiping the correct Jesus Christ. When any group denies the absolute authority of God and His inerrant word of the Bible, they are in great danger of eternal separation from God and that is Hell.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • Little

      Liar. What do YOU know about Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

      October 10, 2011 at 7:36 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Better yet, what does anyone know about god? Most christians (of any flavor) have never read the bible or they too would be Atheists!

      October 10, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • Yup

      Joe is correct. I've read well over 1000 pages of LDS doctrine and had dozens of conversations with LDS friends. They were very quick to refer to themselves as Christians until I challenged them (in friendly dialog) with some questions. My friends quickly changed their tune and oftentimes said "You'll have to talk with our bishop about that" indicating they were trained to not answer tough questions. Have 2 LDS stop by your house sometime and ask them to return 2-3 days later with answers to a couple of questions. The older one will return with another church leader older than himself, and the younger one won't return (LDS leaders don't want the young missionaries to have their faith challenged).

      I recommend some serious research on the Book of Abraham. All my LDS friends love this book for study, and none of them knew the actual history of the book. Sad, really.

      October 10, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • myklds

      "Mormons deny Jesus Christ is God."

      @Joe..

      We as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, firmly believe in Christ as the only Begotten Son of our Heavenly Father, Saviour and the redeemer.

      @Yup..

      "(LDS leaders don't want the young missionaries to have their faith challenged.)"

      Nope, the truth is they're told NOT to engage in a debate.

      If there is a distinctive difference between LDS and other religions is that we only preach testify what we believe but we neither argue nor criticize other's belief.

      October 10, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Yup

      It's no debate. They knock on my door, offer their presentation. I ask if I have permission to ask a couple of questions...they say yes. I ask questions they may not know the answer to and then invite them to do some research and return. They agree...but only one comes back. No debate...just friendly q and a that they initiate. This happens all the time. So these days I ask them if they're willing to do some research and return...but ask that only the two of them return. Again, they agree and we set a time to meet again. But they don't cancel...and don't show up. This is a regular practice. And these are often simple questions about what they believe.

      October 10, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  17. Sircuts

    Romney's cult practices racism, child abuse and tax fraud...Built on the teachings of Joseph Smith...child Molester,thief, traitor ...look him up the founder of the mormon religion...Nobody will admit it because they are afraid of losing a few million votes.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  18. bobby

    I agree they are not a cult by definition. But why not label them what they are a falso religion no different than any other false religion. I too have studied them talked with them and met with them they are as I stated a false religion nothing more nothing less. The guide is the Bible compare what it says to what they practice and believe there you find your answer. Not through your opinion etc just use a simple standard the Bible it is correct and the authority and guide we judge any religion on and by. bobby

    October 10, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • Mirosal

      They are a cult, and you, Bobby, are also a cultist. You tell us that this "bible" of yours is the guide. Well, guess what..... you believe in an invisible sky-fairy, you pray to it, you worship it you tell it how great it is. Sounds like you're a little delusional as well. Do you really believe that EVERY word in that book is the truth?? Every word??

      October 10, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  19. SOFSoldier

    Religeon has incited more wars, death, and brutality than any other cause.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • Frank

      Not true.

      October 10, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • Mike

      Wow, Soldier – you might want to check your factual history on that one. In the future you might want to avoid sweeping generalizations or people won't take you seriously.

      October 10, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • John

      Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot racked up a score that will be hard to overcome.

      3 of the 4 were indisputably athiests.

      October 10, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  20. Jebbb

    They're all cults. Irrational communities of know-nothings who think they have the secret to the Universe and eternal blissful life, are loved by a personal god who listens to what they say, and helps them with various trivial personal goals. They consider themselves better than all outsiders. Oh, and are led by greedy oily con men.

    October 10, 2011 at 7:12 am |
    • Frank

      Then by your definition, Aetheism is a cult.

      October 10, 2011 at 7:14 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.