The big question for the Republican Candidates this past week was, “is Mormonism a cult?” The reactions are varied from, “OH! Yes!” to “I’m not running for Theologian and Chief,” my favorite. Pastor Jefferies, First Baptist Church of Dallas, is taking a lot of heat for his words. And then there is the President of Fuller Seminary saying, “No, Mormonism isn’t a cult like Jehovah Witnesses and Hare Krishna.” What? How does that Make Jehovah Witnesses feel?
I think it is important to get some perspective and definition. The term cult can have at least three applications. First, it can relate to a religious system of a particular people. The cult of Judaism, the cult of Islam, the cult of Isis would all refer to a religious system with its respective customs, priests, and scripture. Sociologist often uses the term cult when they talk about ancient people and their respective religious systems.
The second use is directed toward those belief systems that break away from a larger religious group, having similar beliefs, yet, with major shifts on important doctrines. In this sense Christianity is a cult of Judaism. Jehovah Witnesses and Mormonism would be considered cults of Christianity. Some would even consider Islam a cult of either Judaism or Christianity or both. A case could be made that it is a completely different religion, but their roots with Abraham, their acceptance of certain facts of Christianity have strong connections.
The third use of the term cult is directed toward groups of people who use isolation and mind control to manipulate their followers. Groups connected with people like Jim Jones or David Koresh would be an example. Some eastern mystic groups like the Moonies and Hare Krishna would fall into this category.
Is Mormonism a cult? The answer is yes. They are a cult in the sense that they broke away from mainstream Christianity and changed important doctrines that are central to orthodox Christian faith. There I have said it.
The problem with the political media is that they are less concerned about the accuracy of their terminology then they are in stirring an emotional pot. It seems more interesting to talk about the candidates’ religious differences then it is to talk about policies. This doesn’t discount the question as to how a candidates faith effects their policies, but it puts to rest the childish questions asked of other politicians as to what they think is valid or invalid about another candidates faith.
One objection to what I have said above revolves around revelation. Christians will say we are not a cult of Judaism because Jesus has given us further revelation, and so will the Muslims, Mormons, Witnesses, and so forth. I have addressed the issue from a definitions perspective and will address the matters of revelation and validity at another time. I’m just saying…..