Is Mormonism a Cult?
A comparative review of the definition of the word "cult".
by Kim Siever
There are many websites on the Internet devoted to spreading the message that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a cult. Oftentimes, these "articles" use subjective definitions of the word cult in order to further their message along.
I will attempt below to explain exactly what a cult is and whether such a definition also applies to the LDS faith. In addition, I will attempt to determine how much of the definition applies to Christianity. Before I begin, I must point out that members of the LDS church esteem Jesus Christ to be their leader, not Joseph Smith. But for the sake of argument, I will use Jesus Christ as the leader of Christianity and Joseph Smith as the "leader" of the LDS faith.
Let us begin.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word "cult" as:
- A system or community of religious worship and ritual.
- The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.
This is a more traditional definition, one which is not necessarily what comes to mind when people hear the word cult. Thus AHD has also included a more "modern" definition:
- A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
If we just left this article to hinge solely on this final definition, which is what many Christians seem to do, then both the LDS faith and Christianity can both be considered cults.
Dr. Michael Langone, editor of Cultic Studies Journal compiled the following list of characteristics to help define a cult. I will use this list, mentioning if Christianity and/or the LDS faith apply to each characteristics and why.
The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
Christianity: No longer. But this definition could be applied to Christianity in its early years and during its inception.
LDS: While Latter-day Saints do focus on their current prophet, their commitment is not excessive.
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
Christianity: Yes. Christ gave numerous charges to his followers to go out and teach the people throughout the world and to baptise them. Christian missions are set up throughout the world that continue to fulfill this commandment.
LDS: Yes. There is a proseltysing system set up in the LDS Church that has over 60,000 missionaries throughout the world trying to bring people into their church. Lay members are also told they have the responsibility to share the gospel with their friends and families.
The group is preoccupied with making money.
Christianity: Many Christian sects collect monetary donations from their members. I wouldn't label it as a preoccupation.
LDS: The LDS Church has a tithing system where its members donate 10 percent of their increase. I wouldn't label it as a preoccupation.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
Christianity: This is only apparent in verbal persecution of those who decide to leave Christian sects. In times past (particularly the middle ages), violence and even death were often end results of dissent.
LDS: Though questioning and doubt are not discouraged - in fact questioning is encouraged in many instances of LDS canon - in personal circumstances, excommunication may result in instances where individuals encourage dissent among the Church's members.
Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
Christianity: Prayer is encouraged throughout Christianity. Some Christian sects practice repetition of phrases as a means of retribution or regular worship. Speaking in tongues appears in some Christian meetings.
LDS: Prayer is encouraged among Latter-day Saints. Speaking in tongues occasionally occurs among them also.
The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).
Christianity: I can't think of instances where Christians are dictated in any of the examples given. However, the Bible teaches that Christians should act as their leader (Christ) and proscribes a list of guidelines to help them do so.
LDS: Latter-day Saints are not dictated to with regards to the examples given either, except maybe in the area of clothing - Latter-day Saints are encouraged to wear modest, unrevealing clothing.
Members of the LDS Church do not require permission from leaders to date, change jobs or to get married; however, it is required to be interviewed by local Church leaders in order to enter a temple, necessary for those who want to marry in the temple.
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members (for example: the leader is considered the Messiah or an avatar; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save humanity).
Christianity: Christ is considered the Messiah and as a saviour among His followers. As mentioned previously, Christians try to witness and proselytize to non-Christians. Christians also believe that non-believers will be consigned to hell, while those who accept Jesus as their saviour will be saved into heaven.
LDS: Latter-day Saints do not consider Joseph Smith, or current leaders to be messianic. They do, however, also have programmes to bring people into their church. Latter-day saints believe that everyone who has not denied the Holy Ghost will be able to be saved into a heaven.
The group has a polarized us- versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society.
Christianity: This is apparent among many Christians, particularly those more extreme. This was more predominant in earlier times when all non-Christians were considered heathens and of a lower status.
LDS: Many Latter-day Saints conglomerate together, particularly in higher concentrations of the believers, even going as far as limiting the services they use (doctors, mechanics, dentists, etc) to those provided by other Latter-day Saints. In areas of low LDS concentrations, this phenomenon is not as common.
The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders and ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream denominations).
Christianity: Christ was only accountable to God.
LDS: Joseph Smith was only accountable to Christ and God.
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group (for example: collecting money for bogus charities).
The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them.
Christianity: Any guilt is taught to be a result of the Holy Spirit and necessary for repentance.
LDS: Any guilt is taught to be a result of the Holy Spirit and necessary for repentance.
Members' subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.
Christianity: Christ taught that He had come as a sword to set family members at variance with each other (Matt 10:34-38). He also promised increase and exaltation to those who sacrificed family and friends for His sake (Matt 19:29). New converts ever give up only goals and activities not in harmony with Christian principles.
LDS: Many converts to the LDS faith are "disowned" by family members who do not agree in the denomination's teaching. New converts ever give up only goals and activities not in harmony with LDS principles.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.
Christianity: This would not be the case among all members of Christianity though many do end up devoting significant portions of their personal time to humanitarian efforts.
LDS: Lay members fill positions in the LDS Church. There are no paid clergy. In this respect, Latter-day Saints devote personal time to the group. This isn't applicable to all of this church's members.
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
Christianity: This is not encouraged; though many Christians do this anyhow.
LDS: Latter-day Saints are encouraged to choose their friends wisely, and some local leaders will encourage young members to date others of their faith. They are however also encouraged to befriend others not of their faith.
The purpose in this article is not to label Christianity as a cult as many do to the LDS faith. Nor is it to prove that all other articles which purport the LDS faith to be a cult are correct in their presentations. The purpose behind this article is to show that many, if not all, objective cult definitions which can be applied to the LDS faith can also be applied to Christianity. Articles which perpetuate the belief that the LDS faith is a cult only serve to illicit visions of soothsaying, witchcraft and satanism into their readers' minds.