Is Mormonism a cult or a culture?

By Bill McKeever

The following was originally printed in the Jan-Feb 2010 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here

Is the Mormon Church a cult? That question had led many news articles when it comes to claims of the LDS Church. Since its inception in 1830, the radical teachings of Joseph Smith that denounced the orthodox view of the Godhead and how mankind is saved, not to mention Smith’s insistence that only his church has divine favor (D&C 1:30), naturally led Christians to place Mormonism into the category of this four-letter word.

I realize that the word cult can have a wide definition, but I wonder how many Mormons know that this word has been a part of their leaders’ vocabulary. The word cultist has been used by LDS leaders and apologists to describe apostates, those who believe Adam is God, polygamists, and yes, even Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and the Athanasian Creed.

In reference to groups like the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and the LDS Church, some Christians prefer the term “Christian cult,” a label I’m not totally enamored with since to me the words Christian and cult are mutually exclusive (though a first century Jew probably would have disagreed with me on this). However, given that limited parameter and the fact that I don’t live in the first century, I don’t think I am too far off base to say that from a 21st century vantage point, the Mormon Church certainly can be considered a cult because it claims to be Christian, while simultaneously espousing teachings that are clearly outside the historical purview of the Christian faith.

In recent years some have insisted that Mormonism is not a cult but rather a culture. Others refine that argument by saying we should not look at Mormons as part of a cult but rather as members of a certain culture.

First of all, I firmly believe Mormonism is a culture. It most certainly has its own traditions and language, etc., but unless a person believes that the Mormon Church never deserved the label of cult, I have to wonder when this transition from cult to culture actually took place. In other words, if our definition is centered around doctrinal issues, when did the LDS Church abandon the teachings that, since it began, have caused us to give it this label in the first place? Is it not reasonable to ask those who feel we should abandon the word cult to provide us with precise information that demonstrates why this label should be discontinued?

In light of the definition I provide above, I don’t understand why I can’t view Mormons as members of a cult and a culture. That word plays no part whatsoever in how I interact with the LDS people because that word does not cause me to see Mormons as anything but people who are lost and in need of a saving relationship with the biblical Jesus.


Also see the Mormon Coffee Blog Cultic Characteristics in Mormonism 

For a Viewpoint on Mormonism take on the word “cult,” visit: