The LDS Restorationist movement
Is the Mormon church a cult?
"...if you believe in it, it is a religion or perhaps 'the' religion;
and if you do not care one way or another about it, it is a sect;
but if you fear and hate it, it is a cult."
"A cult is a religious group different from your own." Anon.
"I think most Christians who describe Mormonism as a 'cult' are
making a mistake in moving a technical theological term to the public square
where it will surely be heard in the wrong way and abused." John Mark Reynolds.
On 2007-MAY-17, a Google search for
mormon cult produced about
With the presidential candidacy for Mitt Romney in the 2008
elections, a great deal of attention has been focused on his personal religion. He is a
member in good standing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- often
referred to as the "LDS" or "Mormon Church" -- centered in Salt
Lake City, UT. The LDS is by far the largest of the nearly 100 faith groups who
trace their history back to Joseph Smith's founding of the Church of Christ
in 1830 CE.
The LDS has had a particularly colorful and interesting history:
It once promoted polygyny -- that version of
polygamy in which one man marries multiple women.
The LDS played a major role in the defeat of the Equal
Rights Amendment (ERA) which would have entrenched equal rights for men
and women in the U.S. Constitution.
Until 1978, they did not allow the
ordination of males who had even a single African American ancestor.
In common with many other religiously
conservative groups, they continue to refuse ordination to women.
They continue to play a major role in opposing equal rights
for gays, lesbians and bisexuals, including
How does the LDS Church view itself?
Mormons do not consider their church to be a cult.
However, many Mormons feel that some other organizations in the LDS Restorationist movement are cults, and
entitled to use the term "Mormon."
The LDS church teaches that their group is a restoration of the
original Christian church as it existed in the 1st Century
CE. They believe that
-- early in the 2nd century after the death of the apostles -- massive heresies
developed within the Christian movement. From these heretical deviations from
Jesus' teachings came the Roman Catholic church,
Eastern Orthodox churches, thousands of Protestant denominations, etc.
Thus, they regard the LDS Church as the one true Christian
church founded by Jesus Christ. They regard the other tens of thousands of
faith groups and para-church organizations who list themselves as Christians to
be in error. This feeling is often mutual.
Meanings of the word "cult:"
In the newsgroup alt.usage.english, terms like "cult" are often
called "skunk words." They have so many meanings that they should be
rarely used, if ever. Use of the term often
During 1985-MAY, G. Gordon Melton, a leading authority on religious groups in
North America, gave testimony in a religious libel trial. He discussed the many
negative factors associated with the term "cult." He said:
"Cults are claimed to be deceitful. They are claimed to be harmful to
their members. They are claimed to be undermining American values. Cults are
claimed to be just about every bad thing in the book these days, and with
the pervasive images of Manson and
Jim Jones hanging over us, any group that is
called a cult is immediately associated with those two people. ...
"My working definition of a cult is: "a group that you donít like." ... I
say that somewhat facetiously, but at the same time, in fact, that is my
working definition of a cult. It is a group that somebody doesnít like. It
is a derogatory term, and I have never seen it redeemed from the derogatory
connotations that it picked up in the sociological literature in the 1930s.
"It began as a sociological term in the twenties and thirties. It was used
to describe leftover groups after sociologists had talked about churches and
sects. They were a group that just didnít fit, and they were termed cults.
They were treated primarily as esoterica in American religion. ..."
Then in the thirties Christian apologists picked up the term and used it to
describe groups that were either not orthodox in their
theology or were not Christian at all. That became the most popular use
of the term up until the l970s. ..."
"Then in the seventies, the secular anti-cult movement
came along. America has experienced a great pluralism and a marked jump in
pluralism in religion, and it has come to mean something actively
destructive, not just something wrong but something destructive,
psychologically so." 2
These negative connotations to the term "cult" continue today, although with
The LDS meets three definitions of the term "cult:"
"Cult" is derived from the French word "culte" which came from Latin noun "cultus."
The latter is related to the
Latin verb "colere" which means "to worship or give reverence to a
||Theological use: Oxford English Dictionary defined "cult" as:
||"worship; reverential homage rendered to a divine being
||"a particular form or system of religious worship;
especially in reference to its external rites and
||"devotion or homage to a particular person or thing."
Thus, in its original theological meaning, the term "cult" can be applied to any
group of religious believers, whether they be Mormons, Southern Baptists,
Methodists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics,
||Evangelical Christians and Counter-Cult Movement
usage: This definition is related to heresy -- a concern of almost all large
religions. These two groups often define as a cult any religious group that
rejects some of the
key historical Christian doctrines (e.g. the divinity of Jesus,
the Trinity, salvation by faith, not works, etc.). Under this
definition, the LDS church, Roman
Catholic Church, Orthodox Churches,
Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses,
Quakers, Seventh Day Adventists, etc. would often
be considered cults. Most people who identify themselves as Christians
belong to one of these "cults." Outside of evangelical Christianity, these
"cults" are simply Christian denominations.
||Fundamentalist Christian usage: Some people in the most
conservative wing of Evangelicalism consider all faith groups who deviate
from some of the historical Christian beliefs to be a cult. Thus, the LDS
Church, mainline and liberal Christian denominations, Islam, Hinduism, and all of the other
religions of the world -- representing the vast majority of humans on Earth -- would be
If you use on of the above definitions, then the LDS Church is a cult.
However, its members would be in good company, along with most of the humans on earth.
The LDS once met a neutral definition of the term "cult" -- but no longer:
||A small religious group that exists in a state of
tension with the predominant religion.
||A small, recently created, religious organization
which is often headed by a single charismatic leader and is viewed as an spiritually
The primitive Christian movements, including Jewish Christianity, Pauline
Christianity and Gnostic Christianity, would have qualified for these
meanings of "cult" back in the first century CE. The
LDS Church would have qualified as a "cult" in the 1830s shortly after
Joseph Smith founded the Church of Christ.
However, the LDS Church
has been established for almost two centuries, and has in excess of 13
million adherents around the world. The sociological definition definitely
does not fit. Under this definition, the LDS Church is not a cult.
The LDS does not meet negative definitions of the term "cult:"
||The anti-cult movement usage:
A small number of therapists, research psychologists, self-taught
individuals, etc., form
the anti-cult movement (ACM). They attempt to raise public consciousness about what they
see as dangerous and authoritarian mind control cults and
doomsday cults. Most do not care about the faith group's theology.
They target only what they see as deceptive recruitment practices, and dangerous psychological
pressure techniques, such as brainwashing. The ACM appears to hold opinions about the
effectiveness of brainwashing that are not shared by the mental-health community
generally. They see mind control/doomsday cults as a widespread social problem.
The LDS Church is neither a mind control nor a doomsday cult. They do apply
psychological pressure on their members. Examples are the need to be married
in the Temple in order to reach the highest level of Heaven, threats to
the membership if they reveal Temple secrets, and excommunication of members
who deviate from the Church's teachings. But these manipulations are
probably not any greater than are found in a vast number of other Christian groups.
||Popular, media usage: The media often portray a cult as small, evil religious group,
often with a single charismatic leader, which engages in brainwashing and
other mind control techniques, believes that the end of the world is
imminent, and collects large amounts of weaponry in preparation for a
massive war. The earliest use of this definition is believed to have been in a 1965
book by Walter Martin titled "The Kingdom of the Cults."
This definition clearly does not apply to the LDS Church.
John Mark Reynolds, "On 'Cult:' Is the Word Useful in Political Speech?" The
Scriptorium, 2007-MAY-11, at:
"The testimony of John Gordon Melton, Ph.D.," Contending for the Faith, at:
Walter Martin, Hank Hanegraaff, Ed., "The Kingdom of the Cults," Bethany
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Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-MAY-17
Latest update: 2007-MAY-17
Author: B.A. Robinson