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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. IMeanCmOn

    I look at it this way:

    "This color is blue." "No, it is aqua". "BLUE" "AQUA!"

    "Well, actually, both are made up of yellow and green. It is only the amount of each that makes the slight difference."

    "YOU'RE GOING TO BURN IN HELL FOR YOUR BLASPHEMY AGAINST PAINT!"

    October 10, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Enough Said

      comparing God to paint is sad. Someday soon you will now why it mattered.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • JT

      The better comparison is god and fairies. There is equal evidence for both.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • IMeanCmOn

      You fail to miss my point. The idea that one section of Christianity will deny another is not Christian is sad. Who are they to dictate such a line? The two colors "blue" and "aqua" are actually quite similar with only a slight variation to give it a lighter shade and greener hue. So, again, why deny one's choice to believe one structure of belief within a larger body of faith and roll your eyes and state 'you are not who I am'? My example is only to simplify the comparison and hopefully showing the ridiculousness of it with pulled down to an elementary idea.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      how? is god going to turn his blue paint yellow? that would be sad in a yellowy kind of way.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • IMeanCmOn

      Something like that....

      October 10, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      @Enough Said, why? Comparing God to the actual visual spectrum which he/she created to allow us to view his/her creation that we call the Universe? Yea, um sad that he should shed light on his theories describing God using the same medium that God used.

      What is sad is your narrow view of the world.

      October 10, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  2. Aaron L.

    Any Christian friendly of Science is okay with me. As long as you can understand that Science benefits the human race more than religion ever did. Some people need religion though. Or they'd snap and kill everyone.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  3. uminger

    The dictionary definition of "cult" means all religions are cults (look it up for yourself). The opinion that you are not a cult because you started a university and may be willing to accept there are other points of view is nothing more than a diversionary tactic, or maybe a way of convincing yourself that you are not a cult. You are.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  4. David, CA

    All religions by strict definition are a cult ESPECIALLY Mormonism.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Aerin

      I agree.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • ThaGerm

      You can put me in the agreed column as well.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  5. Aerin

    Have you read the Book of Abraham about the planet Kobol? definitely crazy. but then Christians aren't much better with the holy ghost, a god who is also son of a god visiting earth etc etc.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • By their fruits you will know them

      dork

      October 10, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Reality

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review worth reiterating-

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

      October 10, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  6. Ike

    Mormonism is a cult in that they have strict top down to bottom control and they don't want the bottom to think and just act in the perscribed manners. The Mormons and the Catholic church have a lot in common. Real Christianity is a mind/heart/ soul religion unlike these others that have very little between the bottom layer and God.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  7. Reyel Taylor

    I find it amazing in this day and age that someone would question whether Mitt Romney is a Christian. I asume that to be recognized as a Christian, essentially one needs to be a follower of Christ. As a fellow "Mormon", which is a nickname for members of our faith, we are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Since we do follow Christ, the principles he taught, the Bible and the Book of Mormon (hence the nichname), anyone who calls "Mormons" a cult would by definition not know us or anything about our church, or would be purposely misleading.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Sarah

      Westboro Baptist Church claim that they follow Christ. Does that make them Christian? Black Hebrew Israelities claim to follow the Torah, does that make them Jewish?

      October 10, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • nympha

      I have studied Mormonish extensively, it most certainly does not follow the words of Christ.

      Christ claims to be God – Mormonism believes that he is a seperate individual.
      Christ claims that He is the only way to God/Heaven, that there is only one God in all the Universe, that you are saved by grace alone – Mormonism believes in multiple layers of heaven, gods in many different worlds, that you can baptize the dead, and are works based (heaven is earned).
      Make a list of the fundamentals of each religion and compare with the very words of Christ. Mormonism most certainly does not follow Christs own words.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • ThaGerm

      No, you totally ignored the fact the the Bible states that when the Son returns Armageddon will be upon us. You totally ignored one woman one man (until you wanted federal money in Utah and then you repealed that), but what most don't realize is that in Mormon (heaven) a man has multiple wives! The ORIGINAL book of Mormon referred to blacks as "the black devils", you believe that god is a being that lives on the planet Kolob. You treat your women like beasts of burden to be used for breeding and only in the last 10 years or so reversed your position that women belong ONLY in the home and had NO USE for an education. NOW you say that an educated female makes for a better mother so ONLY now is it OK. You wear a garment "Jesus-Jammies" with (ancient symbols) over your genitals that you believe to be among other things "bullet-proof". You have secret handshakes and pass-phrases and you ACTIVELY DISCOURAGE members to reveal the things I JUST DID.
      But don't feel too bad, distortion and outright lying is common in many religions.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  8. By thier fruits you will know them

    [Religious Fanatic Formula] Typical Evangelical + Ignorance x Hate and Fear = Religious Bigot

    October 10, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  9. Blogson

    The entire dispute about "Christianity" and "Mormonism" is relatively a tempest in a teapot, media-hyped situation which has been exploited to divert the American electorate's attention from issues which actually are vital.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Scott

      Shut up Mr. Spock. This ain't your fight!

      October 10, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  10. Pin

    If I have to choose between Obama and Romney...well I guess I won't vote.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  11. Scott

    Being a white guy what offends me is that other white folks are so stupid. Color does not improve brain functions.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  12. nate

    Mormonism believes in the death of apostates; even Muslims have "great" universities, but Islam is still a cult. Sorry, sir, but you have been deceived.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Agkcrbs

      Fun claim, but I wonder how you would explain why every apostate from LDS is still safe and sound. Sorry; you have been deceived.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Dave

      Citation please – sorry, what you said just isn't true.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • blueeyes7680

      Sir, YOU have been decieved. Mormons do not believe in death of "apostates". That is ridiculous. Check your facts before you post them. I have known a few mormons and they are the most polite, kind people you will ever meet. If you are referring to "blood atonement" (wierd, I know), that doctrine is only recognized by the mormon fundamentalists, who are not associated with the Mormon church. Blood atonement is where the atonement of Christ does not apply to murderers so they must spill their own blood to atone for their sins. Take what you will from this, but check your facts before you post uneducated posts.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  13. Tyndale

    I find the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be the most Biblically sound of any Christian faith. They believe in Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God, in living prophets, in living Apostles, in a central church organization, in the atonement, in the resurrection, in repentance, in baptism by immersion, in Priesthood authority being passed from Jesus Christ to men today by the laying on of hands, and in a myriad of other teachings which are all found in the Bible but which are uniquely practiced by these modern day Saints, which are nothing more than baptized Church members seeking to follow their Savior Jesus Christ. They are different from the other Christian faiths in so many ways, but they are Christians all the same. Again, their differences from traditional Christianity are ten times greater than their differences from ancient Christianity. Could it be that Christianity has been hijacked over the past 2000 years, and these so-called Mormons are simply helping us get back to the original gospel taught by Jesus Christ?

    October 10, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • LaLa

      They also believe that women can't get into paradise w/out a man calling them to it. That's bull. Just like God didn't expect me to abdicate my brain to my father, brother, husband, he doesn't expect me to wait for one of them to deem me worthy of paradise either. If I go, it's on my own merit.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • LDS

      That pretty much says it all.... WELL DONE !!

      October 10, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • nympha

      If that were so, the Book of Mormon would line up with the words of Christ. It absolutely does not!

      October 10, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  14. tensor

    Every religion is a cult, it just doesn't matter much anymore in the U.S., because we're the most ignorant, violent unleashed mutts of all the industrial nations.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  15. thebananadoc

    Hilarious headline. And completely misses what the guy is saying. He says, it may not be a cult.. but the most important thing he is saying here, is that he DOESN'T KNOW IF THEY ARE CHRISTIANS. That is the crux (pun intended) of the issue here. Are Mormons Christians, according to evangelical theology? I think that's a pretty clear 'no.' Are they nice people? Yes. Deluded by fairly insane doctrine? Obviously!

    Of course, since many would regard evangelical Christianity as being a cult, asking someone in a cult to assess another cult is a little absurd.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  16. Dan

    This is just more of the same junk that has been going on for thousands of years. Each religion trying to be #1 when in fact all are wrong. There are many religions on this earth and all claim to be right. This will never end until enough people are properly educated in the facts of evolution of man, religion and culture. Don't be afraid to learn about it all before claiming that your religion is right. We are all the same with just varying degrees of skin color and cultures. The rest of this junk is just myth and a way for each culture to claim to be the chose few. Race and religion are the worst things to happen to people and this planet.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Dan S

      Are you trying to indoctrinate me into your religion dan.

      October 11, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  17. Victoria

    ALL religions including Christianity are cults!

    October 10, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Aerin

      X2

      October 10, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  18. Sean

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines cult as "a system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object." Therefore, I guess that, technically, *all* of Christianity is a cult.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  19. Super Patriotic Vetern who died for your rights

    The only difference between a cult and a religion is membership numbers.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I assume you mean "Veteran" and without knowing the context of your handle, I still find it in poor taste to mock any of my fallen comrades.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  20. Barry

    I hope that "true Christians" define being a "Christian" as those who live a "Christ-like" life, not anything else....I thankfully know many people of different religions that I consider "Christ-like" or "Christian"...I'm quite sure that Jesus himself was and is accepting of all people and judges us by our actions, not which church we attend....Mormons should be judged by their actions....if you don't know any Mormons well, you should not judge them! Here's a crazy idea, maybe we should approach Mormons and other religions the way Christ would....

    October 10, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • nympha

      Sorry, but your concept of Christ is not how He presented Himself to the world. Even He said that He is the only way. Your words are not biblical.

      October 10, 2011 at 11:31 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.