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?