Mormonism: Christian Cult or Radical(ly Distinct) Religion?

By: Andrew S
October 13, 2011

Even if you try to avoid the news (or just the political news, like I do), chances are that if you have even an inkling of a Mormon news radar, you definitely have heard the latest drama: supporter of Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry and mega-church pastor Robert Jeffress called Mormonism a cult. Here’s a video with Jeffress’s comments followed by an interview with Anderson Cooper:

(The first thing I’d like to note is that it always tickles me when someone who isn’t claiming to speak from a restorationist background claims that Catholicism diverges from historic Christianity.)

Robert Jeffress…but this really is just the beginning of the problems with Jeffress’s labeling. Over at By Common Consent, Kristine put a lot of time and effort into diagramming the reasons why many Evangelicals view Mormonism as a so-called “theological cult.” While I think she makes a good point — that Mormons need to be more aware and educated about the very real differences between Evangelical assumptions and Mormon assumptions so that they can address the “principled religious and theological objections” that other Christians may have — the one thing that is really striking about Jeffress’s original comments or his interview with Anderson Cooper is that he is not really arguing based on principled religious or theological objections.

Even actual evangelicals recognize that Jeffress’s definition and usage of the term “cult” is so broad as to be meaningless…except as use as a pejorative. Others point out the value in standing up against anti-Mormon bigotry. But everything really drills down to a few things: what distinguishes a “cult” from a “denomination” from a “religion”?

Christian Cult

In his interview, Jeffress defines a cult (at least, a theological cult) as a “religion that has a human founder as opposed to a divine founder.”) In his definition, cults are by definition separate religions from Christianity (and so he later labels Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam all as cults. While he notes that Catholicism diverges from “historical Christianity,” he doesn’t call the Catholic church a cult.)

This definition of a “cult” has many problems (if he can assert that Joseph Smith is the founder of Mormonism and thus it does not derive from Jesus, then do groups like Lutherans face the same problem with Martin Luther? What makes the difference? How can a restoration or reformation legitimize itself as the recovery of something original?), but the worst is that it begs the question of Christianity’s truth. Because Jeffress doesn’t believe any other religion has a divine founder (and he believes that that is a crucial characteristic of a religion), they are therefore all theological cults.

I’m trying to spend more time trying to work with this theological cult idea, but I’m not able to get anywhere. There are two ways I think that the discussion can go to address something of substance with respect to the “cult” concept…the first would be a discussion of alternative connotations to the word. When people think of “cult,” do they really even think about theological differences? Or do they think about sociological and behavioral differences?

Heaven's Gate CultReally, I think most people think of mass suicides. They think of insular groups, of brainwashing, of shunning. Of emotional abuse.

Unfortunately, this is a place where Mormons aren’t completely in the clear…You have people who would claim some of these things about Mormons: you have people who find themselves estranged from the community, their families and friends, because they believe differently than others. That’s what gives bhodges the opportunity to encourage others not to exclude friends and family members based on theological differences, and gives Tracy M a tragic story for her friend who is experiencing ostracization.

There are aspects about church culture that could be changed, for sure. Even if we’re not at the level of mass suicides or of doctrinally asserting that apostates are “mentally diseased,” the fact is that there are these pain points.

…The problem is that an (outsider) evangelical pastor like Robert Jeffress is not at all basing his critique of the church on any evaluation of Mormon cultural and social behaviors.

Coming back to discussion of theology might be a discussion of whether Mormonism is a heretical Christian group. With this discussion, Mormonism can be brought in the Christian fold, but then the theological differences become such that Mormonism significantly differs with respect to some other benchmark within the Christian superset. Then, the questions are…who decides what the benchmark is? What authority do they have?

A Different Denomination

In most of the discussions surrounding the “are Mormons Christian?” debate, at least some people will recognize the important theological differences between Mormonism and other denominations of Christianity, but they will not concede that the other denominations have any authority to deem Mormonism heretical or a different religion.

For example, if someone claims that Mormons are not creedal Christians, then we can say that that’s true…we aren’t creedal Christians. So what?

This gets stuck back into questions of authority over the name and brand, and the difference between acceptable variations between denominations and unacceptable variations that become heresies. Consider this quotation from the LDS Newsroom written last election cycle over a different issue:

Some members of polygamous groups have suggested that because they may use the Book of Mormon or revere Joseph Smith as a prophet, it entitles them to be included in a broader definition of “Mormons.” Many religions share cultural, historical and theological origins. For example, Christianity, Islam and Judaism all share the heritage of Abraham. Furthermore, all Christian denominations have some historical and theological connection to Catholicism. Nevertheless, this does not authorize them to use the word “Catholic” in their official name. Lutherans and Methodists do not call themselves “Catholic fundamentalists.” Nor did the early Christians call themselves “reformed Jews.”

Likewise, it just doesn’t seem right that the FLDS can overturn more than a century and a half of common usage simply by virtue of the fact that it established itself a century and a half after the Mormon faith was born, and adopted many of its early principles. By declaring that any group professing Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon can rightly be called Mormon is akin to declaring that any Christian group that professes the Bible can rightly call itself Catholic.

I don’t want to be that guy that has to spell everything out, but how difficult would it be to modify the church’s own argument to say, “By declaring that any group professing Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon can rightly be called Mormon is akin to declaring that any group that professes Jesus Christs and the Bible can rightly call itself Christian“..? How difficult would it be for other Christian denominations to say that “it just doesn’t seem right that Mormons can overturn more than a millennium and a half of common usage simply by virtue of the fact that it established itself a millennium and a half after the Christian faith was born, and adopted many of its early principles”..?

Radical(ly Distinct) Religion

In all of the discussions where some Mormons concede that they are not like “traditional” or “creedal” or “historic” Christians (see the problem with assuming one unified historical Christianity here), there almost always will also be someone who will chime in with the statement that Mormonism is a different religion. That Christianity has become something so different that Mormons shouldn’t try to lump in with it.

The problem with this approach is that, like the non-Christian cult label, it relies upon theological nuances (when it actually relies on theology at all) that just don’t mesh with a lot of people of legitimate non-Christian backgrounds. In other words, if you tell a non-Christian that Mormons worship Jesus as their lord and Savior, then it’s not going to matter to them that Mormons disagree with creatio ex nihilo and the ontological issues that come along with that…those things pale in comparison to the centrality of Jesus Christ.

Yet, the flip side of that is what Tim at LDS & Evangelical Conversations invokes to argue that Mormonism is a different religion: that non-Christians would only make the most cursory comparisons, but all the devils are precisely in the details whose significance non-Christians simply wouldn’t get.

And even from a Mormon level, maybe Mormons should emphasize uniqueness of doctrines over trying to build bridges with other Christian groups who nevertheless will probably never come to see eye to eye theologically.

The questions for today are:

  • Is there a relevant use to the term “cult” — either theologically or sociologically — or has it simply become pejorative?
  • Can a critic of the church responsibly decry some practices of the church while also denouncing the political tactics of those like Rev. Jeffress?
  • Is Mormonism its own denomination or its own religion? Is it heretical? Who has the authority to say?
  • Is there any relationship between the church’s efforts to be recognized as Christian and the fundamentalists’ efforts to be recognized as Mormon?

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47 Responses to Mormonism: Christian Cult or Radical(ly Distinct) Religion?

  1. Will on October 13, 2011 at 4:13 AM

    Andrew,

    Good post.

    We are not “Christians” and I don’t know why people in the church get so offended by that comment. We believe in Christ, but we just don’t see him the same way as the evangelical Christians do — not in substance or purpose.

    Unfortunately, the enmity the evangelical Christians have for the Mormons will cause Obama (a total diaster) to be reelected. Romney will get the GOP nomination as he will win the northeast, Midwest and West. However, he will lose key southern States in the general election because evangelical Christians would rather have a socialist as president than a Mormon.

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  2. hawkgrrrl on October 13, 2011 at 7:49 AM

    “In his interview, Jeffress defines a cult (at least, a theological cult) as a “religion that has a human founder as opposed to a divine founder.”)” Like the apostle Paul? Because there is no evidence in the Bible that Jesus founded a church, only that he had followers. On the contrary, the BOM is the only place we see Jesus literally organizing a church – in the Americas. So, to me, that’s Jeffress’s own parlous argument in an epic fail.

    The example of LDS people who are ostracized or criticized by believing family members for leaving the faith is also irrelevant IMO. Believing families of all faiths do likewise based on their own family dynamics. Some people treat those that leave extra nice (love bombing or trying to make it easier to return) or they go to the other extreme of shunning or punishing by withdrawing from the relationship. There is no one formula for Mormons that holds true for all or even a majority from what I’ve seen. We don’t have the “official” Amish practice of shunning. My boss encountered the same response when she started attending a megachurch vs. the Methodist church her grandmother raised her in.

    While we may not believe in the Nicene creed, that doesn’t mean this narrow definition of “Christianity” isn’t up for discussion and re-definition. It’s generally a bad faith argument to make by those who want to protect their own flocks from the Mormon missionary effort. Even if theologians know the difference, their flocks hear “non-Christian” and think we are pagans or devil worshipers. This is especially true among the less educated, and as Pew Forum studies show, the evangelical population is less educated on the whole than other sects. Their pastors doubtless feel that seeding bigotry is doing the greater good.

    There seem to be 2 typical Mormon reactions to these types of remarks: bewildered defensiveness or scholarly abused wife syndrome (“It’s our fault they don’t think we’re Christians! We rejected their creeds!”). The second one is really only common among bloggernacle types, IMO. Most lay members have no idea why they are being bounced from the party.

    I’m proud to be a non-creedal, non-literalist Christian. We just need to caveat the “creedal” IMO, which the evangelicals never do because it reduces the sting of their insult. Some of their flock might actually start to question the origins of their own beliefs and come to some obvious conclusions.

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  3. John Roberts on October 13, 2011 at 8:27 AM

    factoids:
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints predates the Southern Baptist Convention by fifteen years.

    SBC claims about 16M members, compared with the LDS, with about 14M members, only half of those in the U.S. (although membership in each organization is counted differently)

    Although these are relatively “large” denominations, they make up less than 10% of the U.S. population. This is a dispute between two young religious minorities.

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  4. Glass Ceiling on October 13, 2011 at 9:02 AM

    If the Southern States refuse to vote for Romney and become the reason for Obama’s second term, I believe their religion will suffer.

    And as I understand it, they are suffering already because very little of their doctrine answers the big questions. The biggest question is “How do I get to heaven?” They can’t answer that because their claims about “works ” contradicts most of the Bible, and even logic itself.

    Mormons OTOH can answer that question and others like it in ten minutes. Here’s another question we have a great answer for, and they don’t: “Who is going to hell?” Another, “What’ll we be doing in heaven for ETERNITY? ”

    They cannot compete. Their leaders know it, so they had to make anti-Mormonism a pillar of their faith. Romney winning the primary makes the majority of the South “do the splits”, as it were. I am sure their leaders are discussing their next move as we speak. Last time their tactics (spotlight on Huckabee) gave us McCain, Palin,…and Obama. That’s how history will read it.

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  5. Jettboy on October 13, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    I am just wonder why you, Andrew S, a non-Mormon, are even asking the question?

    “For example, if someone claims that Mormons are not creedal Christians, then we can say that that’s true…we aren’t creedal Christians. So what?”

    Or are you claiming with this sentence and the use of “We” that you do consider yourself Mormon? I thought you left the LDS Church?

    I have enjoyed your posts, but have become increasingly uncomfortable with you as an outsider talking as if you are an insider. Call my response ironic, but there it is.

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  6. Jeff Spector on October 13, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    I liked Jon Huntsman’s answer that he was a moron. Which it a bit too close to Mormon for comfort.

    The “cult” term is clearly used a a pejorative and that is really the big problem that I have.

    I’ve long gotten over the “Mormons are not Christians” stuff just as we accuse them of “drawing near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” And “they teach the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.” etc….

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  7. shenpa warrior on October 13, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    @Jettboy – Wait, Andrew S is a non-Mormon? Is this post now no longer about what a “Christian” is but what a “Mormon” is?

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  8. Andrew S. on October 13, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    re 5, 7, Jettboy and shenpa warrior, In completely relevant news to this discussion, this old LDS & Evangelical Conversations post asking, “Are Mormons Mormon?

    …actually, really, that discussion probably sums up a lot of the same issues addressed here. There truly is nothing new under the sun.

    In any case, I’ll report and you can decide. I grew up in the church. Mormonism is my religious language and my first culture. I am still a member of the church, have never resigned or been excommunicated or disfellowshipped or whatever. I practice several Mormon practices (Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, etc.,) but not others (do not attend church regularly, etc.,) I would say I’m a disaffected Mormon, not a non-Mormon. I recognize and appreciate the significant difference between those who believe and those who do not (of which I am certainly in the latter group), but I continue to make the point that I think we can look at things differently.

    I don’t think it is possible for me to be an outsider. I may be in limbo, but I know too much, so to speak.

    Anyway, to address other comments,

    re 1,

    Will,

    If we believe in Christ, then why concede that we are not Christians? There’s a difference between not being evangelical Christians and not being Christians.

    It would be really interesting is evangelical Republicans really would not rally for a Mormon presidential candidate just because of theological differences.

    re 2:

    hawkgrrrl,

    It’s generally a bad faith argument to make by those who want to protect their own flocks from the Mormon missionary effort. Even if theologians know the difference, their flocks hear “non-Christian” and think we are pagans or devil worshipers. This is especially true among the less educated, and as Pew Forum studies show, the evangelical population is less educated on the whole than other sects. Their pastors doubtless feel that seeding bigotry is doing the greater good.

    A quote I’ve seen from someone somewhere on this discussion is that Mormons want to control the definition of Mormonism to establish who they do/don’t have to seek to convert, and Christians want to control the definition of Christianity to establish who they do/don’t have to witness to. So, since Mormons seek to convert (or witness to) other Christians, does this say anything relevant? Do other Christian denominations actively proselytize or witness to other Christian denominations?

    re 3,

    John Roberts,

    Good point. In all of these discussions, “evangelical” Christianity or “traditional” Christianity serves more as a coalition of different (smaller) denominations.

    re 4

    Glass Ceiling,

    Interesting perspective. Do you think that people are disproportionately leaving/disaffecting from evangelical churches because they feel that those churches can’t answer questions that Mormons can?

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  9. Glass Ceiling on October 13, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    Andrew,

    Most folks spend six days a week living in the world that cyberspace brung them…the world that gives them clear, complete, solid answers. Then they go to Church on Sunday and get conflicting fluff that can’t give them good reasons why they should be there instead o atf the lake.

    Whether people realize it or not, they really do want something to believe in… but not something that conflicts itself at every turn and still cannot answer the big important questions. They aren’t leaving and running to Mormonism necessarily, but they are more aware of what they were missing when they were going to Church.

    What I believe the LDS Church needs to capitalize on all that we have that they don’t. But for so many, that’d require a decent singles program for all ages of Mormons . But, for now anyway, we seem to still be in the dark ages in terms of this .
    Sigh.

    I also think that because it is more acceptable in the world now to ask questions of one’s religion, many are realizing that the Trinity makes no sense, nor does the grace / works idea, along with having to ignore evolution, and so forth. It just be becomes easy to fall out of…especially when there are temporal rewards.

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  10. Mike S on October 13, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Two comments:

    1) I think this post examines “titles” perfectly. I think Andrew S is every bit as much of a Mormon as the majority of people who might call themselves Catholic or Lutheran or Buddhist or Hindu. In the Mormon church, we are far too quick to call someone not a “Mormon” who isn’t the white-shirt wearing, come-to-church-every-Sunday, never-drink-a-beer, etc. person. And I think we are much worse off for it. Andrew’s insights into Mormonism have been much more useful to me in my personal life (and respectful) than many of the putative “true Mormons”.

    2) With regard to cults, people mock that which they don’t understand. On my post yesterday on missionary work (which incorporated a healthy amount of Buddhism) people attacked Buddhism with pejorative words, such as making fun of Buddhist practices or saying things like “some fat Rogaine-deprived Buddha”. Comments like these tell me much more about the intelligence and broadmindedness of the person making the comment than Buddhism.

    So, while we may get defensive about other people calling us a “cult” because they don’t understand us and aren’t willing to take the time to find out what we really believe before making asinine comments, we do the same things about other faiths that are not “us”.

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  11. Mike S on October 13, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    #9 Glass Ceiling: I also think that because it is more acceptable in the world now to ask questions of one’s religion, many are realizing that the Trinity makes no sense, nor does the grace / works idea, along with having to ignore evolution, and so forth.

    Nor does polygamy make sense. Nor do discussions about Coke, or restricting blacks from the priesthood, or what color shirt you wear or how many earring you have, or malls, or many other things.

    Lots of things don’t make sense in any religion. While you bring up these other churches, our demographic trends aren’t that peachy either, especially for a Church that claims to have the fullness of truth.

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  12. Glass Ceiling on October 13, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    Mike,

    I knew this was coming. All of those problems you mentioned are not the type of questions which often lead a person to wonder if they are going to heaven or hell.

    And the priesthood question is the only one that I think still raises major eyebrows …even though the Southern Baptist Convention exists because of the slavery issue. Polygamy has not been the order of the day for well over a century. And besides, its not an incredibly hard subject to explain anyway.

    I think you know what I am trying to say about Mormon doctrine vs the rest of Christianity. There is a reason why Mormonism gas grown so fast.

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  13. LovelyLauren on October 13, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    I live in an area with many “non-denominational” Christian churches, which seem to be started by just anyone and don’t root their tradition in Baptism, Methodism, Congregationalism, Lutheranism, etc. and they still claim to be Christian.

    If they can call themselves Christian, why shouldn’t I be able to?

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  14. Jeff Spector on October 13, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    Glass Ceiling:

    “I knew this was coming.”

    It always does… :D

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  15. mark gibson on October 13, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    Does anyone remember the fear of a catholic being elected president? (JFK-1960)

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  16. jmb275 on October 13, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    I appreciate the post Andrew, and the effort you’ve made to be more precise in your language in uncovering what we might glean from this series of events. I must confess, on a personal level, I feel like I don’t have a dog in the fight. I’m certainly Mormon, but that’s the only label I’ll use. Christian? Doesn’t matter. Cult? Well, I don’t think so but I’m not very bothered by the accusation.

    To respond to such a silly accusation is, in my mind, akin to trying to argue with the Flat Earth Society. You’ll never win!

    For the record, I definitely think the correct and most reasonable usage of the term “cult” should be to indicate the social and group dynamics that members experience. In that case, do we share attributes with a cult? Absolutely. So does your school, your company, and virtually every sports team worth a lick. The same things we use to bind ourselves together are the things that brainwash us, and keep us from being truly Christlike. Frankly, if human nature is a given, I don’t see any other way it can be. (also, I think the issue in Mormonism is highly correlated with the beliefs vs. actions debate we’ve had in the past)

    As a tangent, I do think this dynamic can be broken, but it would require us to follow Jesus’ injunctions more carefully. I think it would be akin to the Buddhist state of Nirvana. Until we reach that, I think we trade group solidarity for brainwashing/other cult-y stuff naturally and implicitly. And, for the record, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a bad thing.

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  17. Heber13 on October 13, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    “How difficult would it be for other Christian denominations to say that “it just doesn’t seem right that Mormons can overturn more than a millennium and a half of common usage simply by virtue of the fact that it established itself a millennium and a half after the Christian faith was born, and adopted many of its early principles”..?”

    I think you have nailed it by asking this question.

    It is all about labels and uninformed stereotypes, and I think “cult” is definitely pejorative.

    However, as the Church is doing with its media blitz, having the debates in public can be a healthy way to flush out misinformation. I think it will continue to happen for a while, which mostly benefits the church as people like Jeffress can be picked apart and discounted in the process of enlightening people about LDS beliefs, and enlightening LDS people about their beliefs as well.

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  18. Glass Ceiling on October 13, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    Heber,

    You are spot on about the media flush.

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  19. [...] Wheat and Tares, I have my latest post — Mormonism: Christian Cult or Radical(ly Distinct) Religion. (I actually evaluate another option…different denomination…but the title was long [...]

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  20. All_Black on October 13, 2011 at 11:00 PM

    Interesting arguments.

    One thing I’d like to point out is that that the church is just wrong in its press release:

    “…By declaring that any group professing Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon can rightly be called Mormon is akin to declaring that any Christian group that professes the Bible can rightly call itself Catholic.”

    The analogy should be that any group that recognizes the bishop of Rome as its first pope and the bible as its revelation would be rightly called catholic.

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  21. All_Black on October 13, 2011 at 11:03 PM

    #3 John Roberts,

    “SBC claims about 16M members, compared with the LDS, with about 14M members, only half of those in the U.S. (although membership in each organization is counted differently)

    Although these are relatively “large” denominations, they make up less than 10% of the U.S. population. This is a dispute between two young religious minorities.”

    If we are talking about US religions arguing the correct fact is 16million baptists again 6million mormons but only about 50% ever show up so its 16M SBC members against 3M mormons in the west mainly. Very uneven fight I’d say.

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  22. All_Black on October 13, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    # 2 hawkgrrl “I’m proud to be a non-creedal, non-literalist Christian”

    I always though you were very much a literal believing mormon, ex missionary etc Does this ‘non-leteralist’ mean you aren’t as mormon as before?

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  23. Rigel Hawthorne on October 14, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    I watched the clip and wondered to myself if Jeffress’ followers are really endeared by his outspoken remarks. If Gov Romney’s Stake President introduced him and told all in the audience that all denominations outside of LDS are devoid of divine origin and that when a Mormon candidate is on the ticket that Mormons should always vote for a Mormon, I would be put off. Is it really necessary to emphasize theological superiority in such a setting? I favor the Moroni 7:16 approach here in acknowledging that every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ.

    Doesn’t Pastor Jeffress’ trust his followers enough to ‘teach correct principles and let them govern themselves’?

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  24. Jeff Spector on October 14, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    Rigil,

    “Doesn’t Pastor Jeffress’ trust his followers enough to ‘teach correct principles and let them govern themselves’?”

    No, apparently, they need him to tell them what to do….Ironically, Jefferss’ flock would be defined as a “cult.”

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  25. Stephen Marsh on October 14, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    All_Black … ah, is a group “catholic” “Roman Catholic” or … There are a number of different Catholic churches and the term “catholic” (small “c”) has a different meaning.

    I think it is the difference between whether or not the FLDS can use that term (which they can) properly vs. people using the term “Roman Catholic” who do not acknowledge the current bishop of Rome as the Pope.

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  26. hawkgrrrl on October 14, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    All_Black, I have always considered myself non-literalist in that I’m not a Biblical literalist, and I believe the mythical interpretations are likely the most valid (vs literal Adam & Eve, etc.). I think the concepts and personal growth are what’s important, and I’m skeptical of the concept of proof. I am open to various interpretations of events regarding historicity. I’m also politically independent. It’s more or less the same thing, but theologically.

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  27. Glass Ceiling on October 14, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Andrew,

    Great job on this one. Thank you.

    Hawkgrrrl,

    Your nonliteralism is rather interesting. But how to you figure in Adam being at Adam-ondi-Ahman at some future date? Also, where do you believe rge nonliteralism ends scripturally?

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  28. Glass Ceiling on October 14, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    I think that folks like Jefress are an endangered species. They and their ilk are going the way of rotary phones and pay-toilets. People in their congratulations cannot care about “cults” more than substance in their own religion outright. And if they do, then their own religion lacks substance.

    Can Jefress do damage to Romney? Of course he can. The question is, will Republicans not of the South call the South to to task…or will everyone once more compromise their way into an inferior, yet less…Mormon candidate? It’ll be fun to see. Republicans are once more at loggerheads with themselves. And the future character of this nation is once more on the table. Now more than ever. If Republicans cannot learn from their stupidities yet a second time, then they do not deserve the White House. They need to strong-arm rgw ecclesiastical leaders of the South as opposed to tolerating them.

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  29. CD-Host on October 14, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    I wrote a 3 part on series on whether Mormonism was Christian or not ( http://church-discipline.blogspot.com/2011/07/mormonism-as-hermetic-christianity-part.html ). I agree with Andrew’s point that the arguments the Mormons are raising against Jeffress can be equally raised by the FLDS against the LDS. And people like Al Mohler have pointed this out.

    On the other hand, the reversal works the other way too. Jeffress arguments can be made against Luther / Protestantism from a Catholic perspective. The idea of the bible alone as being the final guide to faith and morals, over and above the church was considered and unanimously rejected by the early church. The 5 solas were points of contention because, except for sola gratia, they were positions the early church did not hold.

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  30. Jared on October 15, 2011 at 7:22 AM

    Andrew, I think that your highlighting of the ways that the LDS Church has cult-like elements is valuable and important. As a pejorative label for the other it doesn’t have much value, but there really does need to be a word to describe religious groups that have ideological totalism, reconditioning (brainwashing), exploitation, shunning, etc.

    I have a serious concern that moves such as the privileging of institutional over personal revelation are making the LDS Church only more cultlike.

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  31. Geoff - A on October 15, 2011 at 8:25 AM

    People Could you address the question of how the perception of the church, through out the world” will change if a member of the church is president of the USA.

    For example if he invades another muslem country- will it affect perceptions of the Church’ position. Most of the world has no idea of the churchs position on most things but could assume it is the same as MRs.

    Would it help or hinder the growth of the church?

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  32. Andrew S. on October 15, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    Hey everyone…sorry for disappearing for the last couple of days…busy weekend, busy time preparing for it, and I’ve caught a cold.

    I’ll try to address some comments while I’m in bed…

    re 9, 12:

    Glass Ceiling,

    While I would have some of the same points as Mike S, I would also have points regarding LDS ideas as belief as chosen, having to ignore homosexuality (or oppose it), etc.,

    It’s important to realize that the LDS church doesn’t have the best growth rates, or the best retention rates. So, I guess we should be looking at what “spiritual, but not religious” groups are doing? Or, as Mike S wrote about, what are Buddhist groups doing?

    re 16:

    jmb,

    The one thing I would say is that “not feeling like you have a dog in the fight” is “a dog in the fight.” Who knows if that’s actually not the most popular opinion?

    re 22,

    All_Black,

    Why would it?

    re 29,

    CD-Host,

    Thanks for dropping by. I always find it fascinating when people like Jeffress say that Catholicism isn’t following “historical Christianity” as if this isn’t instead an indictment against Protestantism.

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  33. Andrew S. on October 15, 2011 at 12:08 PM

    re 30,

    Jared,

    In an earlier comment, jmb suggested that sure, the church might have some cultlike aspects, but so might one’s school, workplace, sports team, etc.,

    Do you think, then, that there should be a term specifically for *religious* groups, or can it be more broadly seen in other groups?

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  34. Jared on October 15, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    Short answer yes. True, the traits of a cult exist on a continuum (Catholicism venerates leaders but does not exist at significant tension with broader society for example), but if any group has all the traits of a cult to a significant degree it could be called a cult even if not religious. It would then be an extremely close analogy.

    I would be interested if anyone can think of a non-religious grout that meets the criteria of cult.

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  35. CD-Host on October 15, 2011 at 2:46 PM

    – I would be interested if anyone can think of a non-religious grout that meets the criteria of cult.

    Psychotherapy cults come to mind. Synanon, was a high intensity drug rehab and modelled itself after religious cults. Softer psychotherapy groups that use some cult techniques like Lifespring still existthough one could argue they are essentially westernized version of Buddhism, and we are into the whole “is Buddhism really a religion or a philosophy”

    Also commercial cults like Amway or Herbalife. Political cults, Larouche.

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  36. Jared on October 15, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Great examples. I think “cult” is useful for all of those.

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  37. [...] wild week! Somewhere in the Republican-Christian world Mormonism got called a cult, and since then people have jumped in to analyze (or write stories about) every aspect of the cult question! Just how cultish [...]

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  38. Erin on October 16, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    Andrew – I really loved your breakdown of the cult stuff and the comment you made about being Mormon. Seems like you gave us a peek at the wheels turning in your mind. Lots to chew on. :)

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  39. hawkgrrrl on October 16, 2011 at 5:06 PM

    “Your nonliteralism is rather interesting. But how to you figure in Adam being at Adam-ondi-Ahman at some future date?” I don’t. These specific ties to the US feel like wishful thinking of apocalyptic believers in an imminent second coming. I have no interest in that stuff. If it’s true, it’s still irrelevant to my daily life. I don’t see the point of this kind of speculation.

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  40. Andrew S on October 16, 2011 at 6:53 PM

    re 38:

    Erin,

    I should probably patch the window to my mind then, so y’all don’t figure out that I’m a robot running on analog wheels and gears. ;)

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  41. Jettboy on October 17, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    Andrew S. you say, “In any case, I’ll report and you can decide. I grew up in the church. Mormonism is my religious language and my first culture. I am still a member of the church, have never resigned or been excommunicated or disfellowshipped or whatever. I practice several Mormon practices (Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, etc.,) but not others (do not attend church regularly, etc.,) I would say I’m a disaffected Mormon, not a non-Mormon.”

    Fair enough. My impression was that you left the LDS Church, and I don’t just mean become non-active. Calling yourself an atheist puts a twist in the identification, but you aren’t officially disassociated.

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  42. brjones on October 17, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    Jettboy, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with your douchebaggery. Please try to scale it back.

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  43. Andrew S. on October 18, 2011 at 12:50 AM

    41,

    Jettboy,

    Maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot…but one question might be: what does it mean to leave the LDS church?

    In other words, from a practical standpoint, I imagine that there’s a non-negligible amount of people who never go again, do not identify as Mormon, etc., etc., but who will never resign, never be excommunicated, etc., They will forever be recognized from the church’s standpoint as “inactive,” or “less active” or “non-active.”

    Would you say those people haven’t left the church either? They haven’t “officially disassociated.”

    I would note, however, that most of these people won’t be on Mormon blogs. But I guess Mormon blogging isn’t evidence of anything these days…

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  44. Jettboy on October 18, 2011 at 8:27 AM

    brjones, go stuff yourself. If you know me at all then you would know that my “douchebaggery,” as you call it, will not be scaled back. I am who I am and say what I want. Deal with it or ignore it however you would like. Trying to intimidate me only makes me more douchebaggery because I refuse to be controlled by the wishes of others. Your not my mommy or my daddy, or my Bishop for that matter.

    “What does it mean to leave the LDS church?”

    To have your name taken off the records of the LDS Church. After that? To live your life or have beliefs that might as well be as if you had your name taken off the records of the LDS Church; a much more subjective definition. When you mostly badmouth or otherwise don’t want to associate with the LDS Church, then I assume “Mormon” is the last thing you want to be called. That is why your “atheism” puts a twist into it because you still live like a Mormon and haven’t had your name taken off the records.

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  45. brjones on October 18, 2011 at 9:28 PM

    Jettboy, I did say please.

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  46. Non-elect Calvinist « Irresistible (Dis)Grace on October 18, 2011 at 9:56 PM

    [...] of being obnoxious, negative, and angry. On the contrary, Even if people can’t agree whether Mormonism is Christian or not, a cult or not, people can generally agree that Mormons are nice. Or, the synthesis of these points: [...]

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  47. Mormonism as an ethnicity | Wheat and Tares on November 17, 2011 at 3:08 AM

    [...] To the extent that I have really appreciated how Mormonism has shaped me in my life, I still feel obligated to correct people when they say blatantly ignorant and stupid things. But I don’t feel bad or burdened by this task, because I already have that valuation…that motivation to do so. That’s why I still blog, even if some people think I’m an outsider talking as if I’m an insider. [...]

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