Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney Saturday sought to calm the religious divisions that surfaced at the influential Values Voters Summit during his second bid to become the first member of the Church of Latter Day Saints to win the presidency.
Romney addressed the issue a day after Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress dubbed Mormonism “a cult” following his endorsement of Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the gathering and moments before Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, said that Romney’s faith was “outside the mainstream of historic Christian orthodoxy.”
Without naming either Jeffress or Fischer, Romney told a largely lukewarm audience on Saturday that one of the speakers at the conference had “crossed the line,” adding: “Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause. It never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind.
“The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us,” Romney said. “Let no agenda narrow our vision or drive us apart.” […]
Perry’s presidential campaign had immediately distanced the candidate from Jeffress’ remarks on Friday, hours after the evangelical leader told reporters that Romney was “a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian.”
“The governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult,” Perry campaign press secretary Mark Miner said in a one-sentence statement. […]
A Pew Research Center survey completed in June showed that one-third of white evangelical Christians said they were less likely to support a Mormon for president.
The flap over the use of the term ‘cult’ is understandable. The term has a range of definitions — most of them benign, while others could be viewed as pejorative. Which of the definitions applies depends on the context in which the word is used.
Few people would get upset if they learn they bought a ‘cult wine,’ or if you note that their favorite band has a ‘cult following.’
However, when applied to a religious movement — be it large or small, young or old — the word ‘cult’ evokes thoughts of the mass-murder/suicides at Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, the shenanigans of the Church of Scientology, or of the brainwashed members of Heaven’s Gate.
A big part of the problem in using the term ‘cult’ is that the word can be defined either sociologically or theologically. Sociology concerns itself with behavior, while theology concerns itself with doctrine.
The ambiguity of the word makes it necessary to determine in what sense it is used.
After all, a sociological definition will differ from a religious one, and a Christian definition will differ from, say, the Hindu or Islamic view.
When it comes to the Mormon Church, the term ‘cult’ is used most often by Christians who want to point out that the theology of Mormonism is incompatible with that of historic, Biblical Christianity.
The Mormon Church – officially, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint – considers itself not just a Christian denomination, but rather the only true expression of Christianity.
However, the history, theology and practices of Mormonism show this religious movement to be well outside of orthodox Christianity.
Just like attaching a Roll Royce logo to a Volkswagen does not make the latter a Rolls Royce, using the name of Jesus Christ does not make Mormonism “Christian.” To Christians suggesting the Mormon Jesus is “Christian” is, in fact, as dishonest as selling a counterfeit watch as a “Rolex.” After all, the scriptures and doctrines created by the Mormon Church are far different from – and incompatible with – those of historic, Biblical Christianity.
Pointing that out is not pejorative — for the same reason that it would not be pejorative for MacDonald’s to point out that a ‘Big Mac’ made with tuna instead of beef is not a ‘Big Mac.’
The question of whether or not a candidate’s religion should play a role in politics is beyond the scope of this commentary. But note that according to the New York Times
Mr. Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, an influential congregation within the Southern Baptist Convention, also expressed surprise at the stir his comments created, saying that his view of the Mormon Church is widely held by evangelicals. “This isn’t news,” he said. “This idea that Mormonism is a theological cult is not news either. That has been the historical position of Christianity for a long time.”
Meanwhile rogue ‘evangelical’ Dr. Richard J. Mouw has, once again, muddied the water by being wishy-washy about Mormonism. In a guest column at CNN’s Believe Blog, Mouw says
So are Mormons Christians? For me, that’s a complicated question.
My Mormon friends and I disagree on enough subjects that I am not prepared to say that their theology falls within the scope of historic Christian teaching. […]
While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology, I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior.
Richard Mouw has been on this kind of theological quicksand before. In 2004, Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR) said — in response to Mouw’s statements on Mormonism, as well as false statements made about Christians who reach out to Mormons — that “he is getting his understanding of Mormonism from professors at BYU rather than the General Authorities of the LDS Church which determines the official doctrine of the church.”
We understand that Mouw has developed personal friendships with some of the professors at BYU. However, Mouw’s trust in these men becomes especially problematic when one considers that Millet, Robinson and other LDS scholars do not speak for the church in any official capacity; especially in terms of reversing the church’s official teachings. Their opinions are not the same as the church’s official positions.
We have no problem with and in fact encourage Christian scholars dialoguing with Mormon scholars and would rejoice if the Mormon Church, as the World Wide Church of God did several years ago, rejects their false teachings and embrace the historic biblical teachings on the essentials of the faith. We are concerned about what the outcome will actually be when Mouw and others choose to believe BYU professors in Provo, instead of studying primary sources from the leaders who work in Salt Lake City and state the official doctrine. In the words of Ravi Zacharias, “Truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of pretended tolerance.”