Richard Bushman, a Mormon who is a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, said that after “the Jewish dust-up,” Mormons “backed away” from “going to extravagant lengths to collect the names of every last person who ever lived and baptize them — even George Washington.”
A media “firestorm” (mostly a “manufactured” controversy, I have little doubt) arose recently when Robert Jeffress, pastor of historic First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, and a strong supporter of Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, declared that Mormonism, the religion of rival candidate Mitt Romney, was a cult. Some in and out of the media expressed concern, disdain, even outrage at this insensitive, even, some said, bigoted remark. Regardless of the response to Pastor Jeffress’ words, the real question is—did he speak the truth? Is Mormonism in fact a non-Christian cult?
The first issue in settling such a question is the matter of definitions. What is a “cult”? I have seen various definitions, but have settled on my own, which is more of a characterization than strictly a definition.
First, cults claim to be “real” or “restored” Christianity, which had somehow been “lost” somewhere between the first century and the time of the founding of the cult.
Second, cults are almost uniformly non-Trinitarian (most are Unitarian, but some are polytheistic).
Third, cults teach de facto or de jure the inadequacy and incompleteness of the revelation in Scripture, and hence the need for two things:
Fourth, cults, as with all false religions, teach salvation by means of human religious works.
Fifth, there is no salvation outside the cult.
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.
The essay below first appeared in September of 2007 in anticipation of the ‘08 election. This version is updated for 2011.
Would you vote for a Mormon for President? Under the right conditions, I would.
By now, the name Mitt Romney is at least vaguely familiar to most of us. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is running for President and is a Mormon. So far, his fund-raising efforts have been fruitful, and the discomfort of many Republicans with the alternatives has kept Romney in a strong position in the polls. Though his chances of being the Republican nominee are smaller now that Rick Perry has entered the race, an eventual Romney nomination is far from impossible.
Some pundits claim the Christian Right will never allow that to happen. In their view, evangelicals view Mormonism as a cult and anyone associated with Mormonism as an embodiment of evil. One pundit, who happens to be a Mormon, wrote the following:
Everyone knows that Christian evangelicals hate Mormons so badly that if they had to choose between a bribe-taking, FBI-file-stealing, relentless-lie-telling, mud-slinging former first lady, and a Mormon ex-governor who doesn’t lie, who’s still married to his first wife, and who supports the entire Christian evangelical agenda, they’d still rather die than vote for a Mormon.
Is he right? More importantly, should he be right? I for one would vote for the Mormon Romney over any liberal Democrat likely to seek office, and I’d do so with only brief hesitation. Before you brand me a nutcase or a heretic, consider the following factors behind my thinking.