home
RSS
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. denvervet

    You don't know its a cult when you get involved or study it, that's what a cult is all about.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  2. Felix

    Most of those Evangelist are lying they are not going to vote for Romney, they are not going to vote for Obama every body knows that, what will happen is that if Romeney is elected in the primary most of those Evangelist are going to be seated at home. The Evangelist believe that Mormonism is a cult and nobody is going to take that out of their brain, most of those Evangelist are believer in the Evangelical Cult too, it is like a monkey telling to the other monkey you are a monkey!. I have the feeling that President Obama is a lucky person the republicans are destroying themselves the reason they have not leader and at the end of the story Obama is going to win the election by default, the Republicans or GOP have this guy Cain he speak plain and use racist remarks against his own people and he makes some to those racist happy they have a black clown making them feel happy,but they are not going to elect him!
    Ideassoul

    October 10, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Open minded

      Obama will win yes, but only because in all of this country there is no better.

      Obama has been in the hot seat as would anyone in his position during these economic hardtimes. He's not perfect by no means, as the same with his congress and the people he leads. He is merely a human being trying to lead a heard of stubborn mules.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  3. Scott

    One of Satan's greatest gimmicks was to take the Holy Scriptures and tweak it just slightly to make it look like a new religion. That's it. We humans are stupid and fall for anything and he knows this. He created Islam in the Middle-East and then created Mormonism in North America. Perfect. Two false religions on both sides of the planet (with a bunch of tiny ones in the mix) and all it took was a couple of fools to believe him and in turn, these fools got millions of followers to believe it also.

    Satan hates humans and his objective is one thing only; to take as many of us with him to Hell. Angels cannot be forgiven; human's can and that is why he hates us. Once Christ dies on the cross, he knew his days were numbered. Why do you think Islam was created after Christ died? Why do you think Mormonism was created after Christ died? Christ's death solidified Satan's future so his only goal now is to take as many as he can with him to Hell.

    Satan is the master of manipulation folks! Be careful in what you believe because Hell is eternal and there is no second change after you die.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Binky42

      LOL. It's so funny that people still believe this crap in the 21st century.

      October 10, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Boy, I'll bet your social calender is filled at the Holidays.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Scott

      @The Real Tom Paine; it's what I believe but I don't "finger-point". Others can believe what they want.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Jamas

      LOL. It's funny your screen name is short for a baby's pacifier. Just saying.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • kurtinco

      Well, I don't know about all this stuff Scott is saying here, but it does seem clear that if you lead a bunch of people through the desert and make up your own religion, complete with a sighting of angels or a chat with God, there will always be people who NEED to believe it's true. Isn't it interesting how a population suffering hardship can so easily turn to one charismatic man when he tells them salvation must be at hand because God has told him so?

      Folks, you don't need these cults/religions to have a relationship with God.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I don't hate you. I think your crazy as batsh!t, but I don't hate you.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Sorry, but you are finger-pointing. The very act of characterizing someone is finger-pointing and assigning a label, and if you can't see that for what it is, you are not as bright as you think you are. Yes, I am finger pointing, folks, but at least I'm honest about it.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  4. K Kammeyer

    Excellent article. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fourth largest denomination in the United States now. Some cult... However, as the author states, there ARE substantial differences between LDS Christian beliefs and main-stream Christianity, but Mormons for the most part are tolerant of others beliefs, and we hope that tolerance will be reciprocated. We can agree to disagree civilly, can't we?
    LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie pointed out many years ago that it is the differences between Mormons and other faiths that draw people to us, not the similarities. While we have much in common, we also are unequivocal in stating that God has spoken to his prophets in these latter days, and that His message is very important to mankind.
    Mormons sometimes let themselves get dragged into the argument over the relative "Christianity" of the LDS faith. "No, you're not!" "Yes, we are!" which tends to blur the very real distinctions. I believe emphatically that Mormons are Christians, but we are not "main-stream" Christians, in the traditional sense. Whenever we try to claim we are, it just leads to confusion and discord.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Binky42

      Mormons may be tolerant of other's beliefs, but they aren't tolerant of people with darker skin color. They believe that people with dark skin are sinners. Do we want a person like that in the White House?

      October 10, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • kurtinco

      It is not the 4th largest denomination, liar. You could have made your point without lying. And mormons are cultists. Why don't you should me some video of what really goes on in the inner sanctum of that tabernacle of yours? On a side note, is it me, or do those boys knocking on my door always look pretty and white? Hmmm.

      October 10, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Scott

      @Binky42; ya know, I have always had a lot of compassion for black folk because of the hell that they' gone through. So now I just learned the Mormon's think they're cursed? OMG,,,these folks never get a frickin break.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Maddiecait

      Civil? Yes, certainly. After all, Christians are concerned about every Morman's soul and where they will spend eternity. The Bible teaches to show the love of Christ to all people. Whacking Morman's over the head is hardly the way to get them back on the path that is laid out in the Bible and away from the teachings of some guy who wanted a lot of wives and didn't like minorities.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Tolerant of other beliefs? Are you kidding me? That intolerance is one of the things that drove me OUT of the LDS Church.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • John Amick

      The Bible cautions the adding to the Bible. The Book of Mormon is an ADDITION that is written is King James english in the 1800's! Second they teach there are other ways to salvation other than through a belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Which is flat out heresy. These are just two points that make Mormonism a Cult. Repacked and slick looking advertisements from Wall Street cannot cover their beliefs. They even declare there are levels in Heaven, which is not ever taught by the Bible. I am VERY disappointed that the President of Fuller would be so accomadating and misled. They may be the fourth largest faith group in the USA but Mormonism is by definition a cult. Wither or not Romney would make a good president I have no opinion but I have great reservation about having a cult member President of the USA.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • K Kammeyer

      kurtinco,
      Check your figures. Mormonism is the THIRD largest branch of Christianity in the US according to the Pew Research Council, whom I tend to trust on these subjects. If you still don't believe me, just go to adherents.com. Or better, please go to lds.org or mormon.org to find out what we really believe.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  5. Maddiecait

    Stating "All religions are cults" professes ignorance of the definition of the word 'cult'. Mormonism, at this point, is hardly a cult though it has numerous cult-like attributes. It's an established religion though based on what is contained in the BIble, which sets out the requirements for those who call themselves Christians, Morman's are not Christians. Mormon's may use the language of Christians and say that Christ is the center of their religion but they are using the vocabulary of Christians without understanding the dictionary.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      All religions are cults

      October 10, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      cult. noun. – 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 11:21 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      It seems to me that the only person ignorant of the definition of the word "cult" is you.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  6. Jose Head

    "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." Isn't this a description of all religions, especially Southern Baptists?

    I can't believe that this topic is even being taken seriously. Except it is taken seriously by all those who are in cults.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Maddiecait

      One of the key attributes of a cult is hiding what goes on. Southern Baptists don't hide what it is they do. They are unabashedly in your face about evangelizing. Their meetings are open (unlike Mormans), there doctrine is strictly based on the Bible (unlike Mormans), and they don't have secrets (unlike Mormans).

      October 10, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Scott

      Well being raised in a Baptist home, one must be careful in this faith also. Pastor's and the men running the churches do not like in-depth questions about anything that is different than the streamlined thinking they were brought up to believe; whether scriptural or based or favoritism.

      Most of the men are uneducated and only have a high school degree and these men believe that doing anything other than being simple-minded and doing manual labor is wrong. IMO, this isn't anything but an excuse but to remain lazy. To get them to use their critical thinking skills is like pulling teeth so in other words, asking questions which forces them to think outside their paradigm only creates frustration and you can be "blackballed" within the congregation and you won't rise into any prominent position. You won't be banned from church, but you'll suddenly find yourself without friends.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  7. brich22

    All religions are cults.

    Islam and Christianity just happen to better advertising budgets.

    It is hilarious how people buy into these con games hook line and sinker. In order not to look like complete fools, they rationalize and defend their cults.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Jedediah

      The Lord Jehovah should strike you dead. But, our God is a loving God. He will not stand for such blasphemy. You shall be stricken with pain for your hate and the true Christians will rejoice in your pain. You should get on your knees and pray, sinner.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Billy

      Owwwww, my knees hurt!!!!!!!

      October 10, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      @Jed – contradictory much?

      October 10, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Jedediah

      See!!!!!!!!!!!

      October 10, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Maddiecait

      Hey Jedidiah – nice try but all but babies can see through your troll like efforts to discredit Christians. Spend some time in the Bible and understand what it means to be a Christian.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  8. momo

    what a joke, so the way to tell a cult from non-cult is the fact that one might have a university that they sponsor?

    October 10, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Scott - 1

      NO, no, no. Cults are like them. True religions are like us.

      October 10, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  9. damonfan

    The Mormon church and any church that dis-fellowships or kicks people out for breaking the "rules" is a cult.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Binky42

      So, all of them then?

      October 10, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  10. Rob

    Still waiting for one Morman to explian and defind their believe in becoming a God and getting their own planet. I doubt we will see it but you never know.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Binky42

      How is it any less believable than going to a cloud-like bliss or a fiery hell?

      October 10, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Woodbeans

      We believe that all mankind has the potential, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to aspire to perfection. Because we as mortals are not able to obtain perfection, Christ took upon himself our frailties, weaknesses, pain and yes, our sins! Through repentance and striving to live by his teachings, we can seek perfection and in the eternities, obtain it. It is the nature of man to grow and progress. That is our fundamental purpose here on this Earth. That progression will continue through the eternities at the throne of God. What is the end result if not exaltation? Your understanding of this aspiration to be God is misunderstood at best. There is one God, one Son and one Holy Ghost. We do not profess to believe we will ever be on equal footing with them. We believe that there are degrees of glory and degrees of reward that are contingent on our faithfulness and worthiness and that EVERYONE can obtain exaltation and eternal life. This is more than mere resurrection, which all mankind receive freely and without condition. I for one, have no desire to drift in the clouds, playing a harp and singing. I want purpose, growth, further understanding, an increase in intellect. These are the things that we know we will be rewarded with through continual progression. If you want to call that being a God, be my guest.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  11. jon

    I love how self-proclaimed experts with PhD's always step forward and claim to have groundbreaking evidence that contradicts years of Christian beliefs.

    Mormonism is a cult. Look it up. Just because one guy with a PhD says it isnt, doesn't change the fact. I dont care who his mormon friends are. Study their official doctrine. Study their official stances. They are a cult.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  12. parker

    Actually, Christian Scientists do have a college. Check principiacollege.edu to see it. The tagline is "A College for Christian Scientists."

    October 10, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Binky42

      Christian Scientist = oxymoron.

      October 10, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  13. joe

    Richard J. Mouw is going to hell....He is politically correct but serves the devil and is not sound in his theology..

    October 10, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Binky42

      Practically everyone is going to hell according to Christians. The only people who aren't are the Hipsters, because hell would be too mainstream for them.

      October 10, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • tallulah13

      Great comment, Binky.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      So, attempting to build understanding is supporing Satan? No wonder I'm happy not attending Church.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  14. Mark

    If you think Mormonism is not a cult- check out "Mormon cartoon" on youtube. And you think Scientology is nuts!

    October 10, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Scott

      Wow,,,I watched the cartoon. I thought I was watching an episode of the early 1970s Star Trek cartoon. lol.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Eric

      Any faith would look strange when portrayed in such a ridiculous light.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  15. Kyle

    Every religion is a cult. Get over it.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  16. Mayor Adam West

    Funny that "cult" is being used as an insult Evangelicals. Jesus and his disciples were probably considered a cult in their time, and they would be considered a cult today if this was their time.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  17. mbal

    ALL religions are cults. Get over it.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  18. Loren

    At the core the belief of the Mormon Church are the writings of a charlatan. One need only read the history of Joseph Smith to understand that that man was not a religious prophet but a self-serving narcissist whose only concern in his writings was how he could twist the story to his benefit. This is epitomized by his revelation of ploygamy to justify his adulterous affairs, which ultimately caused him to be run out of Illinois on a rail, so to speak. The other aspects of church practices, a number of them behind closed doors have the aspects of a cult. Whatever you may say about the raionality of its leaders and their numerous degrees from reputable schools, the fact remains that at the core of their beliefs is a pack of lies.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      replace with the words jesus and christianity and your statement is now valid for both cults

      October 10, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Eric

      Have you included the Book of Mormon in your study of Joseph Smith and Mormonism? I have, and I found the book to be both faith-strengthening and enlightening. To put it simply, no charlatan could have written the Book of Mormon.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Scott - 1

      “the fact remains that at the core of their beliefs is a pack of lies.” Well that puts them in good company with all the other mainstream religions

      October 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  19. Paisley

    I lived in Utah for over ten years and during that time I heard my Mormon co-workers talk scathingly about all other religions – especially Catholicism. I learned much about Mormonism while in Utah. They believe they will become Gods and they have three levels of Heaven. They wear sacred garments and do baptisms for the dead. It truly is very different from most Christian religions despite the fact that they are focused on Jesus. They also espouse the Book of Mormon over the Bible which is secondary for them. While not a cult, I do not believe they are truly a Christian religion either.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Heard and saw the same thing in my stake in Western NY. Any critique, no matter how small, was viewed as an attack and proof they were the One True Church ( a phrase people uttered like a mantra). Meanwhile, they could level any sort of attack at any other faith. BTW, the majority of the people molested while in the Boy Scouts were in troops sponsored by the LDS Church (look up the details of the lawsuits). They protect their own and their Church with a vigor that rivals the Vatican, no matter what the human cost.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  20. meme

    I can tell you a fact that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the full and correct name of the mormon church) is not a cult and I know that it brings me great joy and contentment knowing the fullness of its teachings and what will come in the next life. If you want to know more about us and what we believe you should look in the phone book and call up one of the locations and speak with someone, or ask for a copy of the Book of Mormon so that you know what we are about and not judge us by whatever you have been taught by others.

    October 10, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      I have done that, and found them lacking in every area they said they were strong in. Glad you like it, though. Seen any salamanders lately?

      October 10, 2011 at 11:09 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.