There are many ways in which the enemies of the Church accuse us of being a cult, and it’s not my intent to answer every objection here. It’s been done before; I want to be brief, and leave the extensive exploration, like C.S. Lewis says, to other, better men.
The definition that often carries the negative connotation, the “flying rodent” type of “bat,” so to speak (see Part 4), is this:
- A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
It may be worthwhile to break this definition down, and compare it to historic Christianity. That would help to remove the rose-colored glasses that keep mainstream Christians from remembering their humble beginnings that resemble the LDS Church more than they would like to admit.
A sect is just another term for a religious denomination. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Latter-day Saints could all be considered members of “sects.”
Another definition of “sect” suggests deviation from generally accepted religious tradition. It’s true that Mormonism departs from historic Christianity (it’s one of our main selling points). But it’s also true that early Christianity was a significant departure from Jewish tradition of the time, and that Protestant Christianity was another significant departure from the tradition of the Catholic Church. Consider the churches of our own day, with rock bands and hot dogs – how much farther could Christianity have departed from what it was just 100 or 50 years ago?
There are many things that I do which non-Mormon friends of mine consider very strange. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee. I pay 10% of my income to the Church. I don’t work or spend money on Sundays. But all of these things are “weird” to my friends because they believe differently than I do.
What of extreme Christian practices? You know the ones I am talking about. That symbolic cannibalistic rite with bread and wine. Having one-sided conversations with an invisible man in the sky, on bended knee no less. Teaching that God created the world in 7 days (c’mon, it took at least a month). Sprinkling water on your face to buy your ticket to the afterlife afterparty (or worse, dunking yourself entirely!). Talking jibberish or healing people by yelling really loudly, again to the invisible man in the sky. And don’t even get me started on that other Old Testament stuff.
It’s all strange to outsiders. But strange is a far cry from extremist or unconventional. What’s more, Latter-day Saints are a people who’s members are political and business leaders, strong family and community members, actors, authors, architects, and a myriad other roles. That, too, is neither extremist or unconventional.
This isn’t even a good one. Fine, we all know everyone who’s not Mormon thinks that Mormonism is false. We get it.
But you know what else? Everyone who’s not Christian thinks that Christianity is false. And even crazier, everyone who’s not Buddhist thinks that Buddhism is false. And the atheists, well, they think we’re all crazy.
Earth shattering, isn’t it. I just rocked your world.
Seriously, now. Is it so hard to see that if you believe something, you join the group that supports that belief?
Authoritarian, Charismatic Leaders
We believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Church of Jesus Christ, restored in our day. Joseph Smith, the first prophet, was the man through which God restored the Church and the fullness of the gospel.
Yet we do not worship Joseph. We admire his courage and strength, study his teachings, but certainly we don’t worship him. We see him like Moses. Or Paul. Or Peter.
Participate in an experiment with me, one that I learned from a man named Ross Baron. Imagine that you’re in Acts 2, and you hear Peter preaching of Christ, and you feel the Spirit. You decide to follow the Savior.
Can you accept Jesus while rejecting Peter?
Of course not!
That’s how we feel about Joseph Smith. He is the messenger, like Moses, or Paul, or Peter, who helps lead us to Christ. We cannot accept the gospel of Christ while rejecting the messenger, Joseph, who brought it to us.
Not a Cult
Latter-day Saints don’t live in relative isolation from the rest of the world, and we enjoy a significant amount of latitude and autonomy in how we practice our religion. What constitutes keeping the Sabbath day holy? How should I vote politically (ironically, Jeffress seeks to exercise more authority over his adherents than LDS leaders do over the Church!)? Where should I live or work or play? All of these decisions are left to us as we settle and thrive in every state of the nation, and in almost every nation of the world.