EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the third column in a three-part series on Mormonism.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–In the past two days we have taken a look at the basic history and beliefs of the Mormon church as well as the nightmarish problems it faces when the claims of its prophet Joseph Smith are checked against the facts. In this article I would like to answer the question “Is Mormonism a cult,” then look at the issues involved in considering for whom to vote in the forthcoming Presidential elections.
There are many words for which there is no consensus definition. “Cult” is one such term. For this article, I will define cult as a group that refers to itself as Christian but which differs in one or more of the fundamental beliefs of Christian orthodoxy.
When we hear of someone belonging to a cult, we tend to have a very negative stereotyped images of deceived followers who belonged to organizations such as the Unification Church (“Moonies” for the irreverent) led by Sun Myung Moon, the People’s Temple led by Jim Jones, and the Branch Davidians led by David Koresh.
Because of this stereotype, it is helpful to distinguish between a sociological cult and a theological cult. A theological cult is one that meets the above definition of a cult, whereas a sociological cult is a religious or semi-religious group that is socially or culturally deviant. For example, a sociological cult may have a leader who is very controlling and who makes inappropriate demands of his followers, such as telling certain women followers who are married to have sex with him or forcing adherents to live in a community closed to the public where they cannot leave at will.
Mormonism is not a sociological cult. Although the polygamous Mormon sect which recently made the news under the leadership of Warren Jeffs may certainly be regarded as a sociological cult, the Mormon church disavows this group as Mormon, since it officially ceased allowing polygamy by its practitioners in 1890.
However, Mormonism is a theological cult, since the Mormon church holds doctrines that differ fundamentally from Christian orthodoxy. Space prohibits numerous examples. But we may note that the Mormon church maintains that Mormon males (sorry ladies!) may become a god some day and of the same type as the God of the Bible. It is actually a form of polytheism, although the Mormon church maintains that the God of the Bible is the only God with which we have dealings. Of course, this is fundamentally different than what is taught in the Bible, that there is only one God — period, and we will never become like Him. He shares His glory with no one and we will never be all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere as God is. (For additional examples of how Mormonism is fundamentally different from Christian orthodoxy, see parts one and two in this series.)
This brings us to the question of Mitt Romney and evangelical voters wishing to cast their vote for a social conservative. I see two ways of looking at this:
On one hand, some may argue, there is more to be concerned about in a presidential candidate than his or her religious beliefs. A candidate’s positions on the war on terrorism, poverty, the economy, strictly moral issues such as “gay marriage” and abortion rights, and maintaining free speech all may play into a voter’s decision, as can a candidate’s character, trustworthiness, experience and track record. As this argument goes, if Romney excels in these areas over another candidate, why not vote for him? Americans are electing a president, not the pastor of our church.
On the other hand, others may argue, a Mormon president would provide Mormonism with visibility beyond anything it has had up to now and consequently give a boost to Mormon missionary efforts. The same may be said of a president who is a Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. As this argument goes, a nominal Catholic president or one who is non-committed in his or her religious persuasion would not have the same effect on those who share his or her worldview.
Whether Mormonism is a deal-breaker for evangelical voters is something each one will have to decide.
Mike Licona is the director of apologetics & interfaith evangelism at the North American Mission Board. Read additional free articles on Mormonism and many other related topics at www.4truth.net.