Is Mormonism a Cult?

Recently, Robert Jeffress, a pastor at a Baptist church, and supporter of Rick Perry for the Republican primary race for 2012, referred to Mitt Romney’s faith, Mormonism, as a “cult”. This caused a lot of rebukes by various conservatives and a clarification by Jeffress, who tried to distinguish between a “sociological” and a “theological” cult.

That’s a load of crap.


Jeffress knows as well as anyone else that regardless of whatever specialized academic meaning “cult” might have (or had), he was relying on the popular notion of “cult” to incite fear, disgust, and hatred.

In fact, the popular notion of “cult” has no substantive meaning, really, other than “something I’m afraid of, think is bizarre, and hate”. Often it even means “something that so freaks me out I wouldn’t mind if they were jailed or exterminated from the face of the earth”.

In this sense, almost anything could be called a “cult”, if enough people want to call it that. It is unfortunate when disagreement results in nothing more substantial than name-calling. We all know that different religions and sects have strong disagreements about many things. And those disagreements are fair game for discussion and criticism. Who was Jesus? Who are true prophets? Different answers lead to all the different forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Ironically, I find it unconvincing when someone like Rick Santorum, a Catholic, goes out of his way to avoid calling Mormonism a cult, and claiming that Romney is Christian, and has “great moral values”. I suspect that Santorum may actually believe that Romney is in a “theological” cult and that he is doomed to eternal damnation, but believes there are too many Mormons who are useful to enlist as allies for political purposes of conservative politics. And that’s fine. In other words, withholding the term “cult” has nothing to do with theology, but everything to do with defining who you want to be on friendly terms with. (I’m sure Santorum would refer to every form of Islam as a “cult”.)

Maybe as a Catholic, he’s more sensitive to these terms because, of course, a lot of Protestants believe Catholicism is a cult, and historically, being Catholic was not easy for quite some time in the Protestant-dominated United States.

In the end, I am completely uninterested in labeling anything a “cult”, attaching the subjective baggage of that word to it.


What if we genuinely wanted to reclaim some technical, academic definition of “cult”? Would that help? I don’t think so. Because any such definition would have to face unpleasant facts of history. When John the Baptist was going around baptizing and doing truly weird things, and then Jesus came on the scene, you bet the Jews thought Christianity was a cult. Furthermore, I’m sure no shortage of Jews still think that Christianity is a cult, but just keep their mouths shut because being pointlessly offensive to a majority Christian population would not exactly help prevent another Holocaust.

The answer

So the answer to the question “Is Mormonism a cult” is “Yes, if you want to call it that, and No, if you don’t want to call it that”.

Also, I have a prediction: if a century from now, the Mormon population of the United States has grown significantly, and wields political and economic power, very few Christians will be openly calling Mormonism a cult. They might even start using the Mormons’ own terminology and stop using the term “Mormonism” and instead say “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”.

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