Weekly Question: How Do You Define a Cult?

The latest Evangelical talking head to get his/her foot caught in their mouth is Robert Jeffress of Dallas, Texas, who called presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith a “cult.”  What does that mean?  Is it simply that most Christians see Mormonism as an unacceptable version of Christianity?  Or does it involve some type of brainwashing?  For me, the term “cult” speaks more to the practices of a faith rather than the beliefs themselves.  In the book Under the Banner of Heaven, author Jon Krakauer lays out a very controversial history of the Mormon Church, but the current CLDS is a far cry from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  In addition, I experienced some pretty sketchy practices of faith by more mainstream Christian ministries in college.  So even though I would also stop short from saying that Mormons are also Christians, I’m not sure it’s a cult, except for the FLDS and Warren Jeff’s croniesSo is Mormonism a cult to you?  How so?  Look forward to reading your thoughts.

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One thought on “Weekly Question: How Do You Define a Cult?

  1. Going by the first three paragraphs of the Wikipedia article on cults, I’d say Mormonism can easily seem to fit. For those unfamiliar with it (myself included), it does seem to be a “small religious group lacking in organization and emphasizing the private nature of personal beliefs” or a relatively “new religious group outside of Christian orthodoxy” or especially “a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre.”

    I don’t, however, find Mormonism threatening, as I do most other cults I’ve heard of. Granted, I find some of their historical beliefs hard to swallow, but if I hadn’t grown up in the church, I’d have the same problem with the Old Testament. Which is, without faith, harder to believe? A guy raised his staff, and a sea parted; or Native Americans believed in Christ before he was born? Unfamiliar doctrine is a hard thing to adjust to. In that way, it would be easy to classify Mormonism as a cult.

    But cult has a different connotation from the descriptions above. More recent cults have a reputation for isolating members and impeding critical thinking by conditioning or other means. I don’t think that’s so with Mormonism, at least not any more than other religions. (Once it’s discovered that parents aren’t infallible or another comforting childhood truth is shattered, it seems natural to initially avoid questioning other beliefs, to avoid repeating the hurt.)

    Reflecting on conversations with a Mormon friend from middle school, I can’t bring myself to classify Mormonism as a cult. If cults have practices that are noticeably and threateningly bizarre, the term doesn’t fit. One can’t pick a Mormon out of a crowd like one can a Muslim or Amish, neither of which are considered cults. Even as a friend, I never had a clue of anything different until I asked about her church. All I noticed was that she was a good and intelligent person.

    My hat gets tossed in the (invisible) “no” pile for “Is Mormonism a cult to you?”

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