Posted by: Jay | April 24, 2007

Mormonism a cult?

Perhaps someone could comment on where they first heard that Mormons were a cult. I’ve also heard the same people say this about Jehovah’s witnesses. It’s not clear to me what the reason of this label is. Obviously it is not to foster dialog between followers of Christ, but rather to drive a wedge between them. When I think of the word cult it brings up images of satanic worship, people drinking blood or dancing naked around a campfire. I think most people have similar imagery when they think of the word cult. So why is this term so freely used among some Christian faiths to describe Mormonism? The only possible reason can be to “scare” people. Who would want to associate with someone that is so evil as to belong to a cult? It wasn’t until I moved down to the southern U.S. that I realized how this label was affecting peoples’ view of Mormons. Two examples. I have had someone refuse to pray with me because he said I belonged to a “cult” and he doesn’t pray with cult members. Note: he was the one that was going to pray, not me. Second, my wife is standing in line and the lady behind her starts up a conversation. She asks my wife what church she goes to. My wife says the local LDS church. The lady’s eyes immediately fall to the floor and her conversation stops. My wife sensing the discomfort changes the subject. These are the two blatant experiences I have had since I moved to the south. Do you think Mormons are part of a cult? Why? Do you think this label helps them to find Christ the way you believe in him? Is this just a tactic used by some Christian ministers to “frighten” people away from the Mormon Church? Tell me what you think.

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Responses

  1. There are two basic definitions of a cult and they are often interchanged with poor consequence. One is a sociological cult, and that describes harmful, mind controlling groups. There are many types of sociological cults and they are not limited to religions. Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown, and the Branch Davidians are properly apply.

    The second definition of cult is a theological definition. It’s basically any heretical sect of a major religion that denies a core tenet of it’s parent religion. Because it denies a core tenet, it no longer properly can be classified as a member of the larger group (but still wishes to be part of the larger group). For example, if a Buddhist group denied the existence of reincarnation it would no longer really be Buddhist in nature despite how similar it might look to the rest of Buddhism. Every major religion has it’s own (theological) cults. This definition isn’t well known or understood.

    You are right, that the word “cult” is an excellent way to instill fear into people that may be different. Often people write off Mormons because they’ve heard that they are a cult and therefore think they don’t need to engage in respect and friendship with them. Jesus blew this idea out of the water by choosing to talk with the Samaritan woman, the Samaritans were a theological cult of Judaism (he also blew out sexism in the same conversation by choosing to talk with a woman [taboo]).

    Much of Anti-Mormon activity is really just a way to keep other Christians away from the LDS church rather than pull Mormons out of it.

  2. Thanks for that beak down of what is meant by cult. I wish religious leaders that teach Mormonism as a cult to their congregations made this concept clearer. I’m not sure that Mormons really want to be part of mainstream Christianity due to our differences in doctrine, but we do absolutely view ourselves as Christian despite any outside teachings to the contrary. In our minds a Christian is anyone that follows Christ’s teachings, but I can see how the second definition could fit us well, from a non-LDS perspective.

    I suppose I just have an issue with the impression it leaves on people’s minds that don’t understand the difference between your two definitions of cult. Unfortunately, I think most people leave their church associating Mormons with Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown, and the Branch Davidians.

  3. Agreed, I don’t think it’s prudent to use the word with any member of any group until after the kool-aid has actually been poured. It’s divisive and meant as an insult. Even if you knew you were talking to some one who was absolutely brainwashed, it wouldn’t help pull them out of the group by telling them they are a cult member. They would just retreat further back into the group where they are no longer judged.

    I don’t personally debate with Mormons whether or not they are a Christian. If some one says that they have given their lives to Christ, I’ll let Christ be the judge of that. All I can really say is “awesome, bear much fruit.” I am on the other hand willing to say that what the LDS church teaches is not completely in line with what Christianity has traditionally been associated with.

  4. Fair enough. I would agree that Mormon theology is not completely in line with Christianity. I am very much of the same of the same opinion. When it is all said and done God will judge us all justly and that is all I can ask. I can only try with my limited understanding and experience to emulate Christ’s example. I love his teachings in the New Testament. They always inspire me, no matter how many times I read them.

  5. I work with a personal definition of a cult, which is basically that cults either change, or add to the Bible in order to advance their doctrine. Jehovah’s Witnesses have done one, and the Mormons have done both.

  6. Gene,
    Christianity has changed a lot since it first started. I hardly think that can be the criteria for calling others a cult. Is all of Christianity a cult? I don’t think so. In what way do you believe Mormons have added to the Bible? The Book of Mormon doesn’t claim to be an addition to the Bible. I guess the only thing that comes close to what you’re talking about is Joseph Smith “translation” of Bible passages. Is that what your referring to? If so, which ones are offensive to you? Are leaders of other Christian churches adding to the Bible when they interpret it to fit their unique doctrine?

  7. The LDS Church being labeled a ‘cult’ is what prevented me for 20 years into looking into it. My beliefs have always been closer to LDS beliefs than other churches but I never knew that because of the bad rap and all the lies told about the church.

    They worship Satan
    Joseph Smith got the Book of Mormon from a salamandar by a riverbank

    I could type a list a mile long of the lies I was told. By some ignorantly and not with evil intent… but by some, definitely purposeful lies intended to deceive. When I read the book ‘Are Mormons Christian’ it was clear the author never thought anyone would actually read the Book of Mormon after reading his book so he lied. The only passage in the entire Book of Mormon he could find fault with was 2 Nephi 25:23. He tried to make it sound from that one sentence that Mormons don’t believe in being saved by grace, but by works alone. We and all Christians who believe the Bible even know that faith without works is as dead as works without faith. The two go hand in hand. Neither works without the other.

    Well, there is no way anyone can read the Book of Mormon and come away with that thinking. Prior to that and after that it speaks of how we ‘talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophesies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.’ 2 Nephi 25:26 only a few down from the one he quoted.

    And there are SO many passages in the Book of Mormon that talk about the infinite atonement of Christ and the need for a Savior.

    He had to look awfully hard to find something to twist into what he did.

    Fortunately I had already read the Book of Mormon and knew of the sweetness of the Spirit of it and how directly it speaks of the need for a Savior and infinite atonement. So I knew right then and there his book was tainted. I found many other outright lies and purposely misleading statements. So in the end his book helped to solidify my faith, instead of thwart it. But I know many people who are led deeply astray by reading that book.

    That site I mentioned, jefflindsay.com, has an excellent point by point refutation of that book. It also deals with the movie The Godmakers.

  8. I once read or heard sombody say that the word cult, in the way its used by members of one faith community to discount another, really just means ‘A Church I don’t Like’. In this context, its use seems rather childish.

  9. Definition of a Cult

    1. a particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
    2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
    3. the object of such devotion.
    4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
    5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.
    6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
    7. the members of such a religion or sect.
    8. any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.
    –adjective 9. of or pertaining to a cult.
    10. of, for, or attracting a small group of devotees: a cult movie.

  10. The best thing about cults is that the early Church could be described as one. That’s why all the Apostles and Prophets were killed off. We as Mormons are in great company!! 😉

  11. you are right, I enjoy the honest humble company of LDS members. A lot of people have the wrong idea of what a cult really is. But Mormonism is a cult by definition.

  12. Yes, the LDS Church does qualify for the label cult, if the proper definition is used. The problem is that most people do not understand the way that LDS critics use the word. 90+% of people think it is synonomous with Satanic worship. By this definition the LDS Church does not even come close to being a cult.

    Now if you use the word cult to describe the LDS faith as unorthodox, then yes it qualifies as a cult. Most members will deny that the Church is a cult because they have the same misconception of what a cult acutually is. The problem with most people that use the word to describe the LDS Church is that they know very well that people don’t understand how the word is being used, but do nothing to correct the misunderstanding.

  13. Jesus is not found in any Organization. Individual people that accept him through faith are justified and saved by God’s grace. It is a very simple gift . The people that have chosen to do this are His Church. He does not reside or is limited to one group.

    No Organization can claim exclusiveness. A cult in my opinion is any organization that claims to have all truth and professes it is the only right way.

    As long you except the Jesus of the New Testament you are saved. It’s not complicated.

  14. wow !!
    its very unconventional point of view.
    Good post.
    realy gj

    thank you 😉

  15. Jay

    I think it would depend largely on if the critic is a Fanatical Christian or Agnostic or Atheist. In the circles in which I surround myself I think people use the term “Cult” more to describe the teachings and the tactics the LDS church use to control and keep their members. My personal opinion is that those tactics have worked very well on you and is one main reason you still hold on to a faith that you intellectually struggle with. Cults create an emotional dependence and instill a great fear or doom if one is to leave or forsake it so very few have the ability to actually question and leave. The LDS Church certainly falls into this category. I think it is only the fanatical Christians who would put the “Satanic” cult label …. And isn’t that more correctly the “Occult” anyway most of them are just in the same cult (control) boat as the LDS faithful anyway just comes in a different flavor or name (IMO)

  16. I disagree that the LDS Church creates an emotional dependence in most cases. If someone loses their testimony they leave the church and feel no remorse. I tend to believe the amount of testimony is directly related to the amount of guilt if one were to leave. If you don’t believe in the doctrine being taught, why woould one fear the hell that does not exist?

    In some cases, with some people, an emotional dependancy may exist. But I would argue that with these people there is a tendancy to emotional attachment that would occur with any organization they join, religious or not.

  17. Why then are there a whole group of people in the Church called new order Mormons that stay because of many reasons, one of the main ones being fear of the rejection by their family. Go look on exmormon.org and read the stories of the emotional struggle most go through in leaving the LDS chruch. Oh and people don’t LOSE their testimonies they choose to no longer believe!

    New Order Mormons don’t fear hell, one reason I am sure they are fine with pretending just to keep peace in their families.

  18. What is the difference between “lose their testimony” and “choose to no longer believe”? If someone chooses to be baptized, I would hope they believe the teachings (testimony). If they choose to no longer believe, why is it wrong to say they lost their testimony. The fact you take issue with that leads me to believe you may be trying to justify to yourself why you left telling yourself you never had a testimony, or some such nonsense.

    Anything can elicit emotion, human beings are creatures of habit, anything one does over and over creates a habitual dependence. If someone grows up in the church, or has spent some time in it, it will probably be the familiarity that they miss, not some brainwashed emotional dependence. People can have emotional attachments to cars, schools, community clubs, churches, jobs and any number of other things, this does not make any of those a “cult”. How many people stay with a job they hate for all the reasons you use to claim the LDS church builds emotional dependence?

    If one chooses to lie to themselves and their families in order to “keep the peace” they should reevaluate their priorities and gain some integrity.

  19. You intentially choose to do something, you don’t intentially lose things do you?

    Unless you have experienced what it is like to leave the LDS church and see and experience it from that side I would not expect you to get it.

    “The fact you take issue with that leads me to believe you may be trying to justify to yourself why you left telling yourself you never had a testimony, or some such nonsense.”

    Such a typical and ignorant response, funny how the LDS feel so justified in making personal attacks and yet are the ones that scream persecution!

  20. More on Lost

    Losing something also implies we miss it or want it back if I decide something is useless and throw it away I doubt I would ever use the words “lost” in explaining what happened and where it went.

  21. People can have emotional attachments to cars, schools, community clubs, churches, jobs and any number of other things, this does not make any of those a “cult”.

    I would have to agree. When critics of the LDS faith point how hard it is for some to leave Mormonism as proof they are a cult, I just have to roll my eyes. In almost all circumstances Mormons could say the exact same thing about their belief system. I personally have witnessed how hard it is for those of other Christian faiths to leave the faith of their family and convert to Mormonism, some can’t do it because they know how hard it will be to separate themselves from family and friends.

    If one chooses to lie to themselves and their families in order to “keep the peace” they should reevaluate their priorities and gain some integrity.

    I think we are getting the wrong impression of New Order Mormons. They do not lie to keep peace. In fact, the majority of them are open and honest about how they feel. Many NOMs simply choose not to make waves. Live and let live. They may choose not to comment when they disagree with something but others are outspoken about what they see as wrong. Bottom line is NOM covers a wide range of people (see NOM post) with a variety of beliefs. I look at them as between Ex-Mormons and TBMs.

  22. Jay

    see we agree

    “I personally have witnessed how hard it is for those of other Christian faiths to leave the faith of their family and convert to Mormonism, ”

    From my original post:

    “I think it is only the fanatical Christians who would put the “Satanic” cult label …. And isn’t that more correctly the “Occult” anyway most of them are just in the same cult (control) boat as the LDS faithful anyway just comes in a different flavor or name (IMO)”

  23. Coventryrm,

    We do agree on some level (It is rare that I completely disagree with a reasonable person). Nonetheless, I don’t think Christians have a monopoly on the “cult” thing. I imagine it would be the same for someone that grew up as an atheist (or non-Christian religion) and then decided to leave that belief system, risking ridicule and humiliation of their atheist family and peers to pursue a belief in God.

    The word “cult”, in the way it is used by fanatical Christians, can be used to describe any group of people. That’s why it is disingenuous for critics of the LDS Church, Christian or otherwise, to use the term. However, it appears they will continue to do so despite the glaring hypocrisy and double standard.

    The only way it is not hypocritical is when they change the definition to suit their beliefs, much like Gene tried to do above:

    I work with a personal definition of a cult, which is basically that cults either change, or add to the Bible in order to advance their doctrine.

    He conveniently tries to tailored the definition to fit any religious group that disagrees with what he personally believes his. It is interesting to note that he felt he had to design his own definition of the word “cult”, I guess the dictionary definition didn’t suit his purposes. The problem is his definition implies that he belongs to a cult too because Christianity has changed and added to the Bible over its history, so he ironically crafted a definition that included his own belief.

    I know you don’t believe in organized religion (at least that’s the impression you’ve given me in several posts). I can respect that. I also can respect someone that is informed about their religion, of its weaknesses and strengths and yet continues to participate with doubt because they see the good in it. There is something about the spiritual aspect of religion that is good for the human mind. It helps many find peace, hope and gives them the encouragement they need to serve others. Atheism just seems too sterile for many.


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