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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. frootyme

    Any religion is a cult, because they have their own believes regardless of anyone else agree with them or not.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • blinky

      Frootyme, You're doing exactly the same as what you attribute to a cult. You don't know all the answers for everyone else.

      Anti-Christians don't know all the answers for everyone else.

      Christians don't know all the answers for everyone else.

      People who are neither Christian nor anti-Christian don't know all the answers for everyone else.

      All a person can do on matters of faith is answer to oneself.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  2. blinky

    The author of this article uses far more reason, respect and common sense than all of the people wielding slogans like "religion is stupid" or "believe what I say or else you'll burn in the afterlife." And those two kinds of people seem to come from exactly the same arrogant, intolerant and belligerent starting point. Why the same? Because nobody knows all the answers for everybody else. That's all I have to say.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • kimsland

      So you are saying to keep your children away from this unknown and scary area?
      I agree, I think it may be a CULT too.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • William

      Reason? That is a joke. Reason goes out the door with faith.

      ‎...if devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.... the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind. [Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged]

      October 9, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Bill the Cat

      William,

      Ravi Zaccharias would beg to differ with you.

      October 10, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  3. TheDudeAbides

    Milwaukee Brewers fans are a cult!

    October 9, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  4. kimsland

    CULT

    October 9, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  5. Mel

    Christianity is a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • TL

      Being a Christian means not only having a belief that Jesus is the Messiah that God promised to save us from our sins but actually accepting that free gift of salvation with humility and thankfulnness and entering into permanent fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. So sorry you appear not to have accepted this Truth yet.....there is still time before it is too late....

      October 9, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • kimsland

      TL you're a TOOL

      Kids DON'T BECOME RELIGIOUS
      And if you're already going to church. GET OUT run away, they are evil. These people believe in satan, they are crazy.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  6. Chedar

    Anybody religion that believe and have faith with GOD is a cult.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  7. Kevin

    "Mormonism teaches that God the Father is an exalted Man, that Jesus, angels, and human beings were all the literal spirit offspring of our "heavenly Father and Mother," and that the ultimate goal of the Christian life is to become exalted to Godhood ourselves. The LDS Church derives these doctrines from its expanded canon of "scripture" that includes alleged modern revelations given to Joseph Smith, who claimed to be the Prophet through whom God restored true Christianity to the earth."

    October 9, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • kimsland

      And you forgot the part where all other children are going to burn in hell for eternity.
      Stay away from children you monster.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • TL

      Yep.....definitely a cult.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Cindy

      They also believe that american indians are a Hebrew tribe, in which american indians do not appreciate this intrusion. Mormons and Christians have fought all across the United States. That is why they are in Utah. Christians killed Joseph Smith and his brother and Mormons killed Christian settlers going West. They believe Joseph Smith may have had as many as 50 wives. Mormons are not Christians! They should not try to steal the Christian religion for political purposes.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  8. noemi

    Mormonisum is a cult just like musluimS. They both belive when they die they well have ,meet there 7 wives in heven u think that's not a cult?if america votes in a CULT member to run our country the gates of hell well open and we better be ready america.so america there is 2 of them I for one am not well to go back 150 yrs.6 on one off mentality.I grew up around those people and they r sick like the musliums they wear grab also but they hide there's under there clothes.what more r they hiding plenty.ask them how many times they r babtized not in there they take someone elses name everytime they get diped that is why there cult is so big ask one and they well lie or come up with even a bigger lie.they need to be fully investagated ppl.don't let the deep pockets and smile fool u.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      Here sweetie, have a cookie. Then go actually research Mormons. They're no more or less crazy than you (granted, I think that you're completely stupid-insane).

      October 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Gene

      You are an illiterate idiot who doesn't know what you're talking about.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  9. Rich

    All religions are cults.

    Cult + Time = Religion

    October 9, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Will

      That's the irony of this article. This dude calls JWs and CSs cultists as if they're somehow different from all the other Christian sects. This guy is pretty bad at self reflection.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  10. kristin

    There is nothing wrong with people who are religious. Idgaf. Let them believe whatever they want if it gives them comfort and security. I'm not going to call one person's religious beliefs wrong just cause I'm indifferent. That's arrogance and as equally unattractive as having your door banged on by a jesus lover at 2am.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • TheDudeAbides

      Okay, this is off-topic, and I totally am not trying to creep you out, but I know a girl named Kristin in Tampa and she is completely HOT. Just sayin.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Will

      I'm pretty sure that no JW or Mormon ever banged on your door at 2 am. If someone is banging on your door in the middle of the night claiming to be a missionary, call the police...

      October 9, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  11. Art Tillery

    Mr. Mouw,

    You certainly must know for sure, but for some reason are reluctant to admit, that the beliefs central to Mormanism are in direct conflict with the Bible.

    The next time you are dialoging with the Mormans, ask them if in facvt they believe that God is the only god, or just one of many gods. Ask them if Jesus Christ is the only Son of God and part of the Trinity. Ask them if Mormans, when they die, themselves become gods, the same as Jesus, and have our own individual "universe" to rule over for the rest of eternity. Ask them if their beliefs are found in the Bible or are they from some extra-biblical revelation. And if derived from extra-biblical sources, how do those beliefs jive with the last (22nd) chapter of Revelation that states: "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll." (Vs. 18 & 19.)

    Sir, you are either unaware of the teachings of Mormanism, or not sure of what the Bible teaches about the Trinity.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • TL

      Agreed. Mormonism is definitely a cult.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      Don't worry, your fantasies are just as invalid as theirs.

      ALL HAIL QUETZLCOATL!

      October 9, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Gene

      It's too bad you don't even know how to spell Mormonism, even though it's written everywhere in this article. More homework needed, I'd say.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Will

      It's true, the Mormon's BS is just as invalid as your BS. So get over yourself. Live and let live. Most medical school professors are Jewish, yet you continue to go to the doctor for medical treatment, apparently with the complete faith that you will be healed despite the fact that all of his professors are agents of Satan. So if you trust your health to the agents of Satan, surely you can trust the US Presidency to an agent of Satan.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • andrew

      Don’t be fooled by STD. Rev 12:9 does not say he is misleading the whole inhabited earth for nothing !! The popular road has never been the right one (Matt &:13,14) it wasn’t in Jesus day when he & the first century disciples were persecuted & it is not now. The right road is the hardest one! It’s the one that Jesus referred to when he said your enemies would come from your own family (Matt 10:21,22)... maybe because they refuse to follow the crowd?!! (acts 28:22)
      As these religions all consider the Trinity central to their beliefs;
      consider:
      1) if Jesus is God, who is he meant to be with in John 1:1? (check for alternative renderings)
      2) why did he say the father is greater than I in John 14:28?
      3) Why did he say nobody knows the day or hour except the father in Matt 24?
      4) Why did he say to the Jews that wanted to stone him in John 10 that he was only claiming to be ‘God's son’ not God?
      5) Why did he tell Satan in Matt 4 that it is YHWH alone you should worship?
      6) In prayer to his father; John 17:3, Jesus said ‘Now this is eternal life that they know you THE ONLY TRUE GOD & the one you sent Jesus Christ’. If the father to whom he prayed is the ‘only true God’ what sort of god is Jesus?? A false god? What then?
      7) How could Jesus be God if he was the firstborn of creation? (Col 1:15,16 compare Rev 3:14)
      8) Why did Jesus say in prayer to his father "Let not my will take place but your will" (Luke 22:42) Does this not show that Jesus & his father have different wills hence separate beings?
      9) Why is there no concept of a Trinity seen in the Torah or Hebrew scriptures (King David, Moses & "God's Friend” Abraham never knowingly worshipped a Trine God)
      10) Why does the entire context of the Greek scriptures center around Jesus being God's son?
      11) 1 Tim 2:6 tells us ‘Jesus gave himself a ransom for many’ The word for ‘ransom’ here is derived from the Greek word ‘antilutron’ in a good concordance you will find ‘anti’ means “corresponding to” & lytron: “ransom price” . Now since this shows the ransom price was meant to correspond to the perfect life Adam lost, how could it correspond if it was God who gave himself? (The ransom price would be infinitely higher than required) & it would mock the universal laws God has put in place!
      13) God loved the world so much he gave “his only begotten son” !! What does only begotten mean? From an unbiased point of view (with no presupposition) Begotten comes from beget : ‘to procreate or generate (offspring) & the ‘only’ part, because he was the only one created directly & only by God himself (Col 1:15)
      This is what makes the ransom so so special. God gave his special son – the very first born of creation – Not himself !! That would be mental ! I would gladly take a bullet for my own son! God loved the world so much he gave that son (that’s what it says!!)
      14) Claims that the holy spirit is a person is so baseless & so easily refuted I will not consider it here. Interesting one for you though- compare Luke's account Lu 11:20 with Matthew's account in 12:28 (notice in Luke's account he uses "God's Finger" instead of the expression "Holy Spirit" as used by Matthew) showing that the Holy Sprit is the same as God's metaphorical fingers or hands – an impersonal force that he uses to get things done like create for instance or in this case expel demons.

      Remember, the same Councils (Nicea) that established what mainstream Christianity teach today also excepted idols in worship. From that time on it's Popes lived in shameless luxury while most suffered & many lived immoral lives. Millions lost their lives for so called heresy which was often for reading the bible! Do you really believe that these were the spiritual shepherds Jesus referred to or the ravenous wolves of Matt 7:15 that were inspired of demons (1 Tim 4)

      October 9, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  12. kimsland

    Now want to have some fun kids? Bet you can't wait. You're all going to burn in Hell and witches DO exist.
    If you're a child or have children, stay away from all churches, this is what they believe in.
    Church 'fun' for a young child is fear and tears, it is child abuse and disgusting.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  13. trex

    What Mormons beleive defies any logic.........Christ lived in the southwest USA?.................and so much more..............it may be a cult......................

    October 9, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Allan

      Where did you hear that? Go to lds.org and do some research. They believe that after his ressurrection, Jesus Christ visited the people of the Americas and taught the Gospel to the people there. You can read 3 Nephi 11-27 in the Book of Mormon to find out more. Ignorance is a disease.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Ryan

      Traveled to the America's? Are you @#)%9 kidding me? Even the vikings wouldn't visit America until another 1000 years. And then Jesus returned back? How long was this trip 2 weeks? (rolls eyes)

      October 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  14. Don

    Mr. Mouw,

    You're an idiot.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • luckypuppy

      FTS FTL.

      (Fuller theological seminary for the loss)

      October 9, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  15. Allan

    As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) I must say that some of the comments people are making are ridiculous. Doesn't the name of the Church give a big hint that it's a Christian church? I would challenge all readers of this article to visit lds.org (the official website of the LDS Church) and do some research from the right source and not from religious bigots. Have any of these people read and prayed to God in the name of Jesus Christ if the Book of Mormon is true? Have any of them attended Sunday meetings? People will be very surprised to learn what we really believe.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Don

      Robert,
      The definition of a Christian is found in the Nicene creed.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      No one who's read the Book of Mormon (or D&C, etc.) would ever contend that your religion isn't based around fundamentally Christian principles. But a lot of what your church preaches is well outside of the established gospel. Like, say, Jesus magically appearing in America.

      Now, I think that you have the right to believe in your nonsensical fantasies just as much as the next guy. But you have to admit that most of your rituals and beliefs (garments, afterlife polygamy, extraterrestrial gods, two major advanced civilizations in America, etc.) extend well beyond your Christian foundation.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Art Tillery

      Allan,

      In a world where the name of Jesus is used as a cuss word, do you really expect anyone to believe that having the name of Jesus as part of the name of their church or religion somehow adds credibility? A reading of the scriptures with regards to the early church shows that it had no name at all. It consisted totally of believers who gather in groups to worship the Lord.

      Jesus had something to say in Matthew (Chapter 7) about those who used his name fraudulently or haphazardly: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

      October 9, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  16. kristin

    I don't care about religions of any sort. Truly don't. I don't care what religion political candidates are. I care more about their track records while in office and what their visions are for the future of my country.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Gene

      Thank you, Kristin, for reminding us all of what's important about politicians. Religion shouldn't be part of the discussion at all.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • dg

      If a presidential candidate believes that God come before country, which is the belief of most evangelical christians, than yes their religion should be an issue to consider esp. If their religion against issues you believe should be left to the individual to decide.

      October 10, 2011 at 4:06 am |
  17. Bao

    I'm sure scores of my enlightened brethren have said this already in these comments, but all religions are cults. Not only are you looked at as being ignorant fools by people of other religions who believe they follow the one true god, but you are also looked at as buffoons by the 1.2 billion non religious people for thinking you are somehow special, you have a special place lined up for you when you die, and someone has a special plan for just you.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  18. Hitme

    As a famous pastor of OBAMA once said most emphatically... "GOD DAMN AMERICA"

    Good thing he wasn't MORMON. Good ole Jeremiah Wright, teaching Obama how to hate us soooo well...

    October 9, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • trex

      AGREED...............you are not a mormon...............but you ARE A MORON....!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      October 9, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  19. 99%

    Mormonism IS a cult!

    Teaparteism IS a cult!

    October 9, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • 1%

      99% IS a cult!

      October 9, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Kelly

      1%–Check the numbers. Somehow, I doubt that you are in the 1%. Just a guess, but, I'm thinking you're not, just based on Tea Party demographics.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  20. Joshua

    Mormonism is in fact a cult, I doubt this man's commitment to the Gospel.

    October 9, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Allan

      Have you ever attended meetings at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? Have you ever sat down with Mitt Romney to ask him about his religious beliefs? Go to lds.org. Do some research.

      October 9, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Grr82cu2

      Well – Alan – all one has to do is compare the KJV with The Book of Mormon to discover insertions of KJV texts under different "witnesses" – even to the extent of quoting mistranslated KJV texts. That hardly inspires confidence that those following the teachings of J. Smith and the church he founded are the "latter" saints or that The Book of Mormon is "inspired" ("God-breathed").

      October 9, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Grr82cu2

      Mispelling of your name – Allan – apologies

      October 9, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
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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.