Mormonism: Religion, Denomination, or Cult?

Posted: Apr 28, 2007 2:56 PM

Am I an anti-Mormon bigot for simply raising this question?

In this column two weeks ago (available here), I stated I would vote for Mitt Romney should he win the Republican nomination, and that “though I am willing to unite with and befriend Mormons in common cause to advance our shared values, I am hoping to be a voice of clarity – unwilling to allow Mormonism to be mistaken for orthodox Christianity and unwilling again to disqualify a candidate simply because he is from a faith tradition so different from my own.”

I also stated, “many Mormons in recent years have taken to calling themselves Christians, and a growing number of Christians are willing to speak of Mormonism as something akin to another Christian denomination. But, Mormonism is not a Christian denomination, nor is it merely ‘a non-Christian religion.’ To be theologically precise, though perhaps politically incorrect, Mormonism is a cult of Christianity.”

The Romney candidacy is both good news and bad news for Mormonism. It is the greatest opportunity in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to win converts because hundreds of millions of people from all over the world will be exposed to the teachings of Mormonism for the very first time.

However, that’s also the bad news.

I say this with no animus towards Mormons. I am neither “anti-Mormon” nor a bigot. But, words mean things. And we are in danger of losing a perfectly good word to the forces of political correctness.

“Cult” is in danger of becoming the new theological “n-word.”

If you winced when you read the title of this column, you’re already feeling the pressure.

Most Christians and many Mormons do not know Mormon theology, if the emails and responses from my last column are any indication.

“A cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.” – Alan Gomes, Ed., Unmasking the Cults (Zondervan, 1995).

If Mormonism can no longer be called a cult of Christianity, then neither can the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the United Pentecostal Church, or the Unification Church (to name but a few). If this is to be the case, then books will have to be retitled, libraries and bookstores will have to relabel their shelves, and colleges will have to rename their courses. And, perhaps my seminary degree will be declared illegitimate since I had a course in “Cults” at Talbot School of Theology under Professor Gomes (homepage), whose Unmasking the Cults series linked above is simply the best thing on cults in print. The pertinent volume on Mormonism is written by Kurt Van Gorden and is available here, or from his website here.

So, though I am willing to unite with Mormons in common cause to advance our shared values, I am unwilling to allow Mormonism to be mistaken for Christianity.

Mormonism has almost nothing in common with Christianity. Mormonism is polytheistic, it denies original sin, it teaches that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have physical bodies, that Jesus was conceived through sexual intercourse between God the Father and Mary, that Jesus was the spirit-brother of Lucifer, that Jesus was a polygamist, that Jesus traveled to the Americas during His three days in the tomb, and that every Mormon male will one day become a God ruling over his own planet, accompanied by multiple wives, just as the God of this Earth, named Elohim – who was once a man – has done here.

Each of these claims are rooted in primary source documents of the Mormon church (see my Cults Study Guide .pdf available free here.) Another good link to start an examination of Mormon theology is here.

However, you will not find this information located on the “Basic Beliefs” page of the official L.D.S. website (here). It is the “meat” you will learn once you’re able to digest the “milk” of basic Mormon theology. There is a lot of Christian terminology on the official website, but upon examination, you come to understand that though the terms are familiar, the meanings of those terms are foreign and heretical.

For now, in the spirit of clarity and to honor brevity, a simple overview of the birth of Mormonism must suffice.

In 1820, a 14 year old farm boy named Joseph Smith went to the woods to pray about the religious turmoil going on around his hometown of Palmyra, New York. Revivals had broken out, and young Joseph didn’t know which of the denominations to join. So, he prayed for guidance. God the Father and Jesus appeared to him in bodily form, and he was told, “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History, 1:19).

Joseph claims he was told all Christianity was heretical, and that he would be correcting eighteen centuries of error.

The Mormon message is clear: historic Christianity false, Joseph Smith’s visions true.

Three years later, on September 21, 1823, in another vision, the angel Moroni appeared and told him of an ancient book written on golden plates buried nearby in Hill Cumorah. He was shown the location, but was prohibited from taking the plates. Moroni told him the plates recorded the history of an ancient American civilization written in Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics – an utterly unique language for which there is no evidence – and that he was to translate them with the aid of two magical seer stones called the Urim and Thummim. Moroni had been given the plates by his father Mormon, and Moroni had buried them prior to his death in the final great battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites that took place near Cumorah in 385AD. After 1,400 years, Moroni – now an angel – had returned to direct Joseph Smith to the plates.

In 1827, Smith was finally allowed to take the plates just long enough to finish the translation before they were to be returned to Moroni. In May 1829, while Smith and Oliver Cowdery were praying in a forest near Bainbridge, Pennsylvania, John the Baptist appeared and conferred the Aaronic priesthood to them. Later, Peter, James, and John appeared and conferred upon them the Melchizedekian priesthood. The translation was completed in three years, and the Book of Mormon was published in March, 1830. On April 6, 1830, Smith and five others formed The Church of Christ in Fayette, New York. After two name changes over the next four years, they settled on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormonism is not Christian, from its birth it has been anti-Christian.

The first Christians believed they had met the promised Jewish Messiah in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. It is both correct and proper to say Christianity is the completion of Judaism.

However, Joseph Smith considered both Judaism and Christianity not incomplete but false, choosing instead to write his own versions of the Old and New Testaments while also adding additional holy texts. Had he not claimed to be the “corrected” version of Christianity, Mormonism would be a false religion. Yet, by claiming to be the “true” Christianity, he created the archetypical “cult of Christianity.”

For me, this is what makes the Romney candidacy so fascinating: a political conservative who belongs to a cult of Christianity.

It will be interesting to see whether Romney can persuade enough conservative Christians to vote for him, in spite of his Mormonism. Not since Kennedy have such questions been raised.

With regard to this writer’s vote, however, Romney’s got it – if he can win the Republican nomination.

(FIRST ADD: At 3:05 PDT, Saturday April 28, 2007, Frank Pastore posted the following correction to his column:

The clause "...God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have physical bodies, ..." is an error. It should read "God the Father and God the Son have physical bodies while only the Holy Ghost is a purely spiritual being, ..." according to Doctrines & Covenants 130:22. –– Frank