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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. kimsland

    Why would the Jews and romans kill someone who could walk on water and heal the blind?
    I'm thinking he didn't actually do these miracles, why isn't that obvious to christians?

    October 9, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • jwm

      You're an idiot

      October 9, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yeah, she is.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Brooke Willson

      Because he was dangerous. Religious and political leaders have killed for far less.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • kimsland

      That's exactly what they said to this mad man called jesus.
      Maybe you should praise me.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • CUtiger

      Because they felt threatened that he might compromise the stronghold they held on the land and it's people. Why isn't that obvious to you?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, please don't make me laugh, kims. Why would anyone praise a silly little girl like you?

      October 9, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • o.k.

      Because in Kimsland's world, no one ever makes mistakes or has ulterior motives or has fear of disruption of the status quo. Kim–if this is what your hanging your hat on regarding the validity of the Gospels, might I sugest a little more research or thought on your end..

      October 9, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • kimsland

      What CUtiger ?

      You really truly think that we (people) would kill someone who could do miracles?
      That's insane.

      And Tom tom tom tom, at least I'm alive, not DEAD dead dead, like jesus. May he rot in the ground. Actually they probably blew him up, it was the Middle East you know.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, you're not dead. Just brain-dead.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Mormon4ever

      I got it. Finally I got it! I will vote for OBAMA!!! Yes we can! AGAIN.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  2. Pablo

    No issue. The pastor can say what he wants by US freedom of speech. And the people will vote as they please. Most Religious Sects see all other Sects of any religion as cults, which is why we have separation of church and state. If the reader is surprised by this, go to a few varied church/mosque and other services instead of reading CNN.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  3. Floyd from Illinois

    Jeffress' *baptist* megachurch is itself a cult by definition – a cult of personality, focused on Jeffress.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  4. Tom

    In how Dr. Mouw is defining "cult," he is correct. However, this isn't a standard view of how Evangelical Christians define "cult." The traditional definition, in its most simple form is "Jesus + something else" equals salvation. Evangelical Christians just believe that faith in Jesus alone equals salvation.

    With Mormans, you have to believe that the Book of Morman is the word of God and that Joseph Smith is the true prophet for salvation. Jesus isn't in the equation, or if he is he's a minimal part of it. In fact, they believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers. And salvation means something different for them too. They believe that God was just an exalted man, and that they can become gods themselves over their own planet. Mormon women are to be pregnant for eternity populating their own planets. They believe that you can baptize the dead to bring salvation and they believe that they need to wear special underwear.

    We live in America, where these beliefs are protected. Mormans can believe these things. That's fine. But what isn't fine is for their church or members to portray themselves as a branch or denomination of Christianity. They are not. This is where Mouw's comparison with Kennedy and the Catholic situation in the 60s breaks down. While there are similarities, they are two very different things.

    The recent grassroots movements popping up are showing that people are tired of deception. They want truth and transparency. Perhaps the easiest way for Mitch to disarm this situation is for him to be open about who he is and what he believes.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  5. Gary

    Jesus and his followers were accused of being a cult by the Jews and Romans then they killed him on the cross because they disagreed with what he believes. Nothing has changed in 2000 years. If we disagree with what someone else believes then they get labeled a cult. Can someone tell me one credible reason why mormonism is a cult? Isn't the churched named Church of Jesus Christ. Sounds like another christian denomination to me.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • puresmokey

      They are all "cults." Mormonism, Catholicism, the various branches of Protestantism, Islam, Hinduism, etc, etc.... If you define cult as it's defined in the dictionary, they all fit the bill.

      October 10, 2011 at 1:43 am |
  6. El Flaco

    Mormonism is no nuttier than Evangelical Christianity. There are many more similarities than there are differences between the two groups. Neither is especially impressive in any way.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Rob

      What you are saying about how Chrisianity "seems" is true until you actually read the Bible and start following Jesus. I don't know anyone who has read the Bible and prayed that believes as you do. And when i say "read the the Bible", I mean the entire Bible, in a study group format, with a good leader and good open, free discussions.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  7. kimsland

    Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

    October 9, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  8. Chedar

    Rather than playing politics, the pastor should spend his valuable time to look for people who needs assistance, Something toward more compassionate and loving kindness to human being. Take the 10% donation by his congregation and buy food to the needy. Children where parents are having a difficult time in this economy. Children who don;t know where their next meal is coming. IT is happening now and it is here in the US ofA Children go hungry.,

    October 9, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  9. Scott W.

    I wish we could start by stopping the reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as "Mormons" or "Mormonism." Contrary to popular belief (and even to most within the LDS Church), there is no such thing as a "Mormon" or "Mormonism." Even people within the LDS Church have gotten sucked in to what the rest of the world demanded to call us. Instead of fighting for what is right, we caved in to popular belief, even though it's not correct. For us, Mormon was a great prophet like Moses, Abraham, and others; however, great he was (and we appreciate him abridging the scriptural record named after him), we DO NOT worship him or hold him as anything but a gifted, righteous man. There is only ONE who is the Savior of the world, Redeemer of all mankind and the King of kings....It is my Savior, Jesus the Christ. And oh by the way, this is not something new my church as started teaching....It's been this way for hum about 181 years.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Jake

      Couldn't have said it better. Good job.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  10. Realist

    Who cares, Faith in some illogical spiritual being has nothing to do with a government job, absolutely nothing. Behind closed doors or at establishments like a church this is ok. But who you believe in or not believe in has not 1 thing to do with this role. You can be good or bad naturally. I want an atheist to run the country, im sure they will do a much better job first and foremost on intelligence alone for seeing past the bronze age myth and tackling the things that REALLY matter here. Oh read up on the founding father's most hated religion.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  11. sammy

    Seems like fundamentalists would be all over this Mormon thing. I mean if Mormonism has a shot at being truth so to does Islam or any other religion.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • kimsland

      Or none.
      Which is the preferred option

      October 9, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  12. Brian Kennelly

    Aren't religions, by definition, all cults?

    October 9, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • kimsland

      Yes

      October 9, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  13. Patrick

    Muslims, like Mormons, also view Jesus as a great teacher and prophet. Mormons do not consider themselves saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus, alone.
    Although the terms and names in their religion may sound the same as those in the Bible, the acts and people they’re describing are often very different. Jesus is an example of this. The Jesus of Mormonism is the brother of Lucifer and the son of someone they call Elohim (Hebrew for God) but who was once human just like us. Furthermore, he’s just one of many gods in Mormon doctrine. In other words their Jesus is not the one and only God incarnate, and is not the Creator of the Universe.
    According to them, He made atonement by sweating blood in the Garden of Gesthemane, and it will only help pay for our sins after it’s been determined that we’ve done all we possibly could have to save ourselves through our good works.
    Mormons believe that if they’re good enough they can even become gods themselves and achieve a position on some other planet comparable to the one our God has here. As former Mormon Church President Lorenzo Snow said, “As man is God once was; as God is man can become.” While they often sound compatible on the surface, underneath nearly every important doctrine in Mormonism departs from Biblical Christianity in some major way.

    Living in Salt Lake, all I've seen is Mormonism thwart and oppress otherwise intelligent and free-thinking people.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • Ken

      It sounds like their beliefs may be infringing on your lifestyle. Living the doctrines of the LDS church is not easy and not for the faint of heart without a testimony. It is so much more important for deep thinkers to think than it is to pray about the truth. For myself, I know that The Church of Jesus Christ is the Lord's true and restored church on earth and I have been tremendously blessed by living the standards set forth by the leaders of the church as they represent the Lord. I don't live in Utah and converted to the church as a free thinker who wasn't afraid to pray. Try it!

      October 9, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  14. Mr Chihuahua

    kimsland I'm going to bite you in the butt lol!

    October 9, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • kimsland

      Just like jesus did.
      Allah likes that jesus boy, he has him everyday

      October 9, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  15. Bill

    By his definition, much of Islam, at least in Iran, is a cult. Same with Indonesia,the fourth largest (in terms of population) country of the world

    October 9, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  16. Ron Cole

    Truth be told, Christianity is a cult. First off, Jesus was a Jew and never spoke of, supported or even knew about anything called the Christian Church. Being a Jew, I'm sure he would not have endorsed it at all, especially using his name. Christianity is, like so many other forms of Jewish like cults, just another form of Judism.

    As a very wise man once said when asked if he was asked; "Are You Christian" he replied, "Of course not, I follow Jesus Christ."

    October 9, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Rob

      Did you hear this on TV, or something? Of course Christ was a jew. But when Christianity was rejected by jews and moved (largely) to the gentiles, how on earth did it become a jewish sect? Answer: it didn't. Try not to act like you know anything about Christianity. It just makes you look stupid.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Rob

      Did you hear this on TV, or something? Of course Christ was a jew. But when Christianity was rejected by jews and moved (largely) to the gentiles, how on earth did it become a jewish sect? Answer: it didn't. Try not to act like you know anything about Christianity. It just makes you look stupid...

      October 9, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • JayG

      @Gary
      You're partially right - the early followers of Christ, called then, "follower of the Way," were labeled as a strange sect by the Herodians, Sadducees and religious Pharisees of the day then steeped in Judaism. If that's what you meant by "cult" then yes, they were.

      But we'd do well to define what "cult" actually means, both inside the Christian church - i.e., Christians use the term largely to differentiate other religions which deviate from orthodox, historical and Biblical Christianity - and outside, where it's thrown around to describe everything from followers of Kevin Smith films to any organization that's secretive and raises boat loads of money.

      Most Christian theologies have defined Mormonism a "cult" in more the sense of the former - tenets of Mormon theology differ widely from Orthodox Christianity when it comes to key issues like Biblical authority, the trinity, divinity and claims of Christ, total depravity, redemption and salvation... on and on. You don't have to agree or like any of these differentiations, but they do exist and to deny them would be suger-coating, plain and simple.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  17. Cindy

    I am not LDS, nor do I ever aspire to be. However, the LDS church is also not a cult. It is extremely complex, with many rituals and "secrets" shared only with members. This cloud of secrecy creates for broad interpretations of what actually occurs. @Cindy- Mormon women actually have a huge role in the family, not just to breed. They are seen as a cornerstone of the family, and while the church does promote the standard "housewife/homemaker" roles, they certainly do not state that that is all women are there for. I have issues with many parts of their doctrine-especially that blacks could not hold the priesthood for a long time.\
    They are just like any other religious group, they have their good members and they have their not so good ones. Choosing a President based on faith, I feel, is a bit silly. It is one of the larger religions in the world and the most wealthy. They do a lot of good for a lot of people.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  18. NoNukesForever

    Darn it! I meant to post that to the last story. Ok, let me try again. Mormon's are wierd but I want to see the musical.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  19. Joe

    Forget about the "theological" issues. What about the practical issues such as the fact that there is no historical or archaeological evidence whatever for anything in the book of Mormon? And the fact that somehow the translation of the book from the supposed golden tablets sounds like Jacobean English of the King James Bible (early 17th century) despite the fact that Joseph Smith lived in the early 19th century? I find all this very troubling when I try to understand the Mormons.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  20. kimsland

    To hell with this.
    Cults, churches, any religious following is just madness.
    If jesus was around today, we'd lock him up in the nut farm.
    Mommy I want to point and laugh at jesus. Yes sweetie, yes you can.

    October 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And we can all laugh at you, kims. Look mommy, there's the fat girl who can't get a real man.

      October 9, 2011 at 9:55 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.