Calling us Cultists

I’ve written before on the unfortunate habit of labeling Mormonism a cult, and my disappointment when that label comes from the lips of Evangelical or mainstream Christians. I enjoyed this piece on the subject, and hopefully not just because I agree with the author (human beings have a habit of doing such things).

There’s a mistake that people make when they call Mormonism a cult. The mistake goes something like this:

These attacks inevitably abandon any definitional rigor and load the dice to reach the desired result. Thus, Sullivan adopts a handful of suspiciously on-the-nose criteria for cultishness— secret places sealed off from outsiders, pressure not to leave, and effective “enforcement” of tithing. In other words, Sullivan looked at some elements in the Mormon tradition that he finds unsettling, exaggerated them for effect, and decided that those are the characteristics of a cult. It’s an easy game to play.

“Here is another reasonable-sounding list of cultish characteristics: belief in the infallibility of a supreme leader, a system prohibiting clergy from normal family life, and a network of the especially devout who vow to totally remove themselves from society. No one believes Sullivan’s own Catholic Church—a global faith that has inspired some of the world’s greatest art, thought, and philanthropy — is a cult. But using Sullivan’s tactics, it isn’t hard to cast it in a dark, suspicious light.”

The author concludes that using the term in reference to Mormonism is inaccurate. They write:

“Ultimately, calling a religion a cult is a cowardly act, because the vagueness of the word provides plausible deniability to any who use it. While Sullivan or Jeffress may say they use the word in a specialized, limited sense, for the average person it evokes images of federal agents surrounding the Branch Davidians in Waco, not of a vibrant, growing religion some 14 million strong. If Sullivan does not intend to equate Mormons with brainwashed sycophants in a suicide pact, he should choose a less inflammatory word—one that actually means what he is trying to say.”

After reading the article (or just the above conclusion), what do you think? Is it fair to label Mormonism a cult?


8 thoughts on “Calling us Cultists”

  1. Thank you for a great post.

    I believe it depends on how you define a cult.

    If you define it as a group, calling itself Christian, but deny the core belief of orthodox Christianity, namely Triune God, two natures of Christ in one person, and salvations through the person and finished work of Christ, and has its own private or new revelations from God then I think it is fair to tag Mormonism as a cult.

    What do you think pal?


    1. You’re point, “it depends on how you define a cult”, is the proverbial $64,000 question. With that in mind, I wonder why you would define cult as “a group, calling itself Christian, [that denies] the core belief(s) of orthodox Christianity…”. That is not the definition of “cult” in the slightest.

      So, friend, what do you call a group that arbitrarily changes the definition of a word, so as to capitalize on the negative connotation and direct hate towards another? In a word, obnoxious.

      (There are other words, mind you. Obnoxious just seemed the least offensive.)

      All of those things you mentioned may arguably disqualify Mormonism from being correctly labeled as mainstream Christianity, but that’s a different conversation. You’re definition of cult is awful. I have to wonder… did you even read my post, or the article it referenced?

    2. As an aside, those who are legitimately familiar with Mormon doctrine will recognize that we’re pretty much on board with the “two natures of Christ in one person” and “salvation through the person and finished work of Christ”, and that mainstream Christianity is more on board with “private or new revelations from God” than you might think. But that is also a different conversation.

    3. Prayson,

      I find your thoughts interesting. The true definition of Christianity (as I understand it – and as every definition website I was able to find understands it), mentions nothing of a Triune God or trinity. Saying that Mormonism is a cult based off of a falsified definition of what Christianity is makes no sense. Also, in the times of Christ, all of his teaching were private and new revelations from God. How then was the church in his time not a cult based off of your definition? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches of Christ, the Son of God. The literal Son of God. The doctrine of the church is based off of divine revelation through Prophets, scriptures, and through personal revelations received through prayer. It is not main-stream Orthodox Christianity, because it is NOT orthodox Christianity. The God-head, in reference to the nicene creed, is NOT something the LDS church follows or believes. It was thought up by man, written by man, voted on by man, and accepted by man. There were no Prophets of God involved in this process and it is unfair to assume Mormonism is a cult based on the Church not agreeing with something man created on behalf of God without his consent.

  2. Hello Alohalarsen and Michael,

    Thank you for your replies. I believe my “if-then” is overlooked and as result being misunderstood as I read both your answers. I did not define Christianity, nor define cult, but simply offered the characteristic of a position that is outside the standard belief.

    Michael you are sadly wrong in a holding a popular Dan-Brown belief of Church History. I am surprized and ashamed at how many Christians and non-Christian hold to a myth that Triune God was a vote by man but re-affirmed and subscribed by all present except two bishops,Theonas and Secundus of Alexandra who hold that Jesus is an angel. I have written in my blog different posts on early Church leaders between 30-250 A.D, trying to bring into light early Christian teachings. Everything, Michael, is taught and written by men, including the Bible itself. The question is not whether its taught or written by men, but is it true.

    What is your(both) definition of a cult? Is Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult? Is oneness pentecostal a cult? I would love if we could in love, gentleness discuss this issue, bringing light and not heat into our journey to discover how awesome God is.


    1. I’m going to suggest we pull back on a few things, just to try and help us stay focused. It can be difficult to have an online dialogue when there are so many issues at once, so if we can table a few things for now, I’d appreciate it. I think it will help.

      I know we brought up what the definition of true Christianity is, and that brought in elements of Church history and the Trinity. Let’s pull back on that for now. That discussion also leads into whether or not Mormons are Christian, or in what ways they are Christian. Let’s also pull back on that.

      Let’s just talk about the cult element, specifically the last paragraph of Payson’s last post. What’s the definition of a cult? Can we define which other groups belong in that category, including Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Oneness Pentecostal?

      To respond to your “if-then” being overlooked, I would offer that it wasn’t overlooked at all. I challenged it, but I did not overlook it. You said, in effect, that if we defined a cult as “x”, then Mormons could be considered a cult. I said that anyone who defined a cult as “x” was obnoxious, and that we cannot arbitrarily make up definitions to capitalize on a word’s connotation. In the excerpt of article I posted, the author highlights this point. In a typical reductio ad absurdum, she asks the same kind of “if-then” that you did, except with Catholics. The purpose was to show how absurd (as in “absurdum”) that method is.

      So you didn’t define Christianity or cult, but offered what is a popular definition of cult by anti-Mormon groups. Whether or not it’s your own point of view, the practice is still obnoxious.

      I’ll let Michael answer for himself if he decides to continue, but as for my definition of a cult, you can read my piece here on Mormonism and Robert Jeffress where I discuss how Mormonism is and is not a cult.

    2. I do feel an apology is in order on my behalf. The “if-then” statement was overlooked in my reading. I hope my response was not taken as heated in any way. I had no frustration or anger during my writing nor did I feel any type of offense from reading your comments. In terms of historical learning, I feel very inadequate and appreciate the information you have given.

      To answer your question regarding a definition of a cult, I will be using the simple google search responses and analyzing them according to how I feel.

      1 – A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
      2 – A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.

      Definition 1 – I’d like to focus on the wordage “figure or object”. To me, that closely resembles the definition of idol. I feel that there are only a handful of churches that use symbols or objects as things to worship, despite the fact they are doing it in an attempt to worship God. The LDS Church does not have or use anything like this in it’s teachings. There is use of alters in temples, but crosses and statues are not used in prayers, rituals, or any of the like. If one defines the “figure” as Christ or God or whomever, the definition falls easily within the definition of any Christian denomination, and everyone is in their own prospective cult.

      Definition 2 – This definition is rather vague and is up to each person’s interpretation. “Stranger or sinister” could easily be found in all religions, and “relatively small group” can be applied similarly.

      I am of the opinion that if Mormonism could be classified as a cult, all of Christendom could as well. However, personally, my opinion is that the term “sinister” in the second definition is the key to defining a cult. I feel that there are few Christian religions that would qualify as “sinister”, and it would only be to some partial degree. According to my understanding of the eternities, the LDS Church is the least sinister of them all, in that that the church actively teaches that EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE will have an opportunity to learn of and to accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior and Redeemer of the world. Some won’t learn in this life, but the Plan of Salvation, as taught by the church, teaches that there is a time after this life for those who have not had those opportunities to learn. Few other churches preach that to my knowledge.

      So in regards to my definition of a cult, I don’t see it fair for Mormonism to be classified as one. Based simply on the definitions above and my understanding of them, I have yet to see a Christian based church which I would deem a cult. There are a few denominations which I will keep unnamed that I do feel meet partial definition requirements, however that is not my intent is this comment.

      I will be reading responses to this, however I limit myself to two posts to prevent too much time on forums and blogs. I really have enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. I am also grateful for a love God who has taken such great care of me throughout my life and who I feel influence my choices and actions each day to encourage me to be the best person I can be. I am also grateful for the Savior of the world who is there to not only help me be better, but to allow the mercy I need to receive forgiveness of my sins and to make me clean so that I can one day return to be with Him and my family.

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