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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. haole akamai

    Sheil... Thanks for the first lucid statement I've heard today! Bravo!

    October 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  2. Allah has mercy

    I am glad to see these "religious" crooks attacking each other. They are all cults and shams anyway!
    It's so sad that 70% of americans are GULLIBLE CHRISTIANS.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • kimsland

      The prophet Mohammad is a disgusting pig.
      Oink Oink

      October 9, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Takes one to know one. Join Weight Watchers, kims.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Hogwash

      Joseph Smith and Muhammad have a lot in common. Both claimed to hear from angels. Both decided to change history to fit their own ideologies. Both were polygamists. Both were desperate to start a religion for their own selfish ends. Followers have had to recant things both prophets supposedly said under inspiration from "God." For example, "responsible" Muslims argue Islam is a peaceful religion in spite of the plain call to Jihad against "infidels" written in the Koran. "Responsible" Mormons have had to recant a litany of teachings: polygamy, people of color are children of Satan, etc.

      October 10, 2011 at 2:17 am |
  3. ron

    "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." This accurately describes many of the speakers at the so-called Values Summit. For example: the Pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, TX; and Bryan Fischer, Director of the American Family Association, who says Mormons and Muslims don't deserve First Amendment rights. Why? Because they don't hold the same view of Jesus Christ as he claims the Founding Fathers did.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  4. jess

    Not a cult, ha, the definition of a cult is a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. Apparently this guy doesn't read any thing but his own twisted book.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • kimsland

      Yes the writer is a lost religious christian.
      He is only good to laugh at now.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Randy

      So by the definition of cults you share wouldn't all Christians be a cult members because of their focus on and devotion toward Jesus Christ. Was Steve Jobs a cult leader because of all of his high tech followers. Just trying to see why Mormons are considered a cult by some.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  5. Kebos

    Please.....all religions are cults. To suggest otherwise is an insult to humanity.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  6. sheil

    The Republicans don't like any religion but theirs, they don't like Mexican's, they don't like Blacks,they don't like Jews, or Mormans either, they think the un-insured should die, they mock gays in the military because they are different and they hate the poor, the elderly and the sick. Here is what they like....White, Christians with Money....the rest--they just want your vote! and Jesus would have loved the poor, the sick, and the elderly. I guess that makes them hipocrits too!

    October 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  7. Allah has mercy

    testing

    October 9, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  8. eastwood1379@gmail.com

    Accept Islam for your Salvation as I did after 9/11. I got interested in Islam and discovered that it has the most authenticity than any other religion and it confirms that Christian and Jewish traditions.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • kimsland

      And if you don't, snakes bite you when you're dead.
      Islam is more funnier than pathetic christianity

      October 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Phil

      Islam is borrowed, plagiarized and stolen and not worth the paper its printed on.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, look, there's that valedictorian humor again. Brilliant, kims. Really. /sarcasm

      October 9, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  9. *frank*

    Mealy-mouthed essayist is mealy-mouthed.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  10. Wade

    Is Christ God in the flesh? Is there a literal hell? Are we jusitified by faith? If you cant rebut evangelical Christianity from a King James Bible you may have it wrong.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • David Goren

      No, no, and no.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  11. haole akamai

    It's funny thay ANY religeous person would call another religeon a cult. They are ALL CULTS of people who choose to live theit lives on the basis of fairy tales and fear. It's a basic herding instinct that proves that Darwin is right about evolution. Herding isn't the only animal trait carried over to humans. You just have to look at violence, war, etc to see that we are more closely related to Dog than a dreamed up GOD.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  12. kimsland

    If god is everywhere, is he in my poo ?
    He smells like sh!t, and is disgusting.
    Go away poo I have no need for you.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, gosh that is the "most funniest" thing I've ever read.

      Really, dear, get a new act. You just look stupid.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  13. Chris, Austin

    The GOP has been using religious fanaticism to cover up its consistently falling popularity with economically educated voters for decades. Now, that same fanaticism is going to make half of their base stay home and not vote for their own standard bearer. Hah.

    The Tea Party acts a little like a cult, based on the description in this article. And they're going to attack a guy who belongs to a faith that believes the US const1tution is the inspired word of God? Nice.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  14. Cindy

    What place do women have in the Mormon religion other than to breed? And you would want a man like this to make decisions about your daughters life?

    October 9, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • cookub

      Women have leadership roles in individual wards, stakes, and in the general leadership in the Church such as Relief Society Presidency, Young Women Presidency, and the Primary Presidency. We arent animals and we don't "breed", just like everybody else. Many people have bad misconceptions about the Church that they simply just dont know enough about. See http://www.mormon.org

      October 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • MJ

      know your facts.. http://www.mormon.org

      October 9, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  15. Motrek

    After reading through the article it seemed the main point was whether or not Mormonism fits the definition of a cult. The author says no. However the author acknowledges that there are deep significant differences between what Mormons believe based on their book of Mormon and what the bible declares. His logic is: as long as open dialogue is possible, they are not a cult.
    But to those who have studied both the bible and the book of Mormon it is obvious that the one contradicts the other. What I've found interesting is that the view of man in the book of Mormon echoes the words of the serpent who told Eve (and Adam) that they could be like God. That lie blurred the vast distinction between creator and creation and undermined the relationship of trusting obedience to God in which man had been created. That lie lives on in people who live their lives as if they are their own god and refuse to acknowledge God's right to rule.
    Perhaps by "definition" Mormonism is not a cult. But the fundamental beliefs of Mormonism are contradictory to Christianity.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • cookub

      We only believe that we can be like God once we have died, been resurrected, and judged. If we are found to have lived a good, righteous life we can be placed in a level of Heaven where we can live in the presence of God for eternity. We all just strive to try to live as righteously as possible in our daily lives because by living righteously we can be blessed with happiness and joy as we face our trials and challenges just like everybody else does.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Motrek

      @cookub. You've hit on the point exactly. God has told us that there is no one righteous, not even one. That means not you and not me. We need the righteousness from God apart from law which is by faith, by God's grace, through the redemption that Jesus provided. Read Romans. Your performance is valueless because all our righteousness is like filthy rags. We can not earn or deserve salvation. Salvation is a gift. And we will never become God, though we can become like Christ. Any teaching that contradicts the bible on these truths, including teachings found in the book of Mormon, is under God's curse and is enslaving its followers and causing them to carry an impossible burden. We are not good enough, we never will be, God knows this, so he saves us freely. I sincerely hope that you are not under the delusion that somehow you've got to be good enough. God himself wants to provide you with the righteouness you need. He will make you fit for his kingdom. Why not accept what he offers?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  16. hlub87

    and he's the president of Fuller?

    October 9, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  17. NJN

    You all are bigots

    October 9, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  18. kimsland

    Jesus does NOT love you. He is dead. We nailed him to a cross.
    The church is full of lies and fear. If witches did exist they'd live in a church.
    Learn to realize that these cults are there for the weak minded, its NOT for you.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Enlightened4

      Wow are you dumb. Surprising you breathe at all.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • kimsland

      No I'm not, and thanks for asking. (Oh and you forgot the question mark fool)
      Try to ask more questions and then you'll finally see the church is dumb.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yeah, kims, you are. I'm no believer, either, but you are dumb anyway. Obnoxious, too.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • kimsland

      Tom, tom tom tom tom, please religion is dumb and you know it.
      I think religion was made to make us laugh, and I laugh at you.
      Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

      October 9, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Logistics

      @kim
      Just fyi, tom tom is REALLY smart, and we should listen to him/it/her and not argue. ok? don't get tom tom mad!

      October 9, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Joey Jo-jo

      With witty, cutting critiques like that, Enlightened4, it's amazing you aren't "Enlightened1".

      October 9, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Kims, you can laugh at religion all you want. I do it myself. You're still an idiot.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  19. RichS

    When any groups of individuals place the writings of someone against the Bible as being the final
    authority they do not belong to the group described as Evangelical Christians.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  20. slavedriver

    @Ryan..good point. If Jesus visited America I think that means we all missed the 2nd coming. Oops!

    October 9, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
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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.