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Though he insists it isn’t, Richard Mouw’s definition of a cult fits the LDS Church

By Bill McKeever

In an interview printed in Christianity Today titled Rich Mouw on Why Evangelicals Need to Be Quick to Listen to Mormons,” Dr. Richard Mouw, the outgoing president of Fuller Seminary (yes, the same Dr. Mouw that continues to accuse evangelicals of bearing false witness when it comes to the teachings of Mormonism) insists that the word cult should not be applied to the LDS Church. It’s not because he thinks all cults have suddenly disappeared; after all, in his new book, Talking with Mormons: An invitation to Evangelicals, he writes,

“Mormons don’t deserve to be dismissed by Christians as a cult. Scientology in my view, is a cult. The Jehovah’s Witnesses belong to a cult. Hare Krishna is a cult . But present-day Mormonism should not be lumped together with these groups” (vii-ix).

For many years Mormonism has been classified as a theological cult because its teachings either deny or distort basic teachings of the Christian faith. Mouw ignores this long-time testing standard and instead has devised his own criteria. As he says on page 30 of Talking, cults don’t usually argue “among themselves” and since he’s personally seen BYU professors disagreeing, he exempts Mormonism. He also excludes the Mormon Church from this label because it owns a “world class” university. In an October 2011 CNN article titled “My Take: This evangelical says Mormonism is not a cult,” he states,

“Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, haven’t established a university. They don’t sponsor a law school or offer graduate-level courses in world religions. The same goes for Christian Science. If you want to call those groups cults I will not argue with you.”

However, in the Christianity Today article, Mouw also states that the word cult “often connotes secrecy, duplicity, and a rigid ‘one true church’ mentality. None of that really fits present-day Mormonism, which scholars instead call a “new religious movement.” It doesn’t?


Helen Whitney, producer of the 2007 documentary “The Mormons,” specifically mentioned Mouw when discussing secrecy and the LDS Church in a November 2007 interview she gave at Princeton University.  In this interview she described Mouw as “one of Mormonism’s greatest friends” and said that he “wondered with me about the secrecy of the temple.” Has anything changed since 2007 when that documentary first aired? Not at all. “Unworthy” Mormons (and non-Mormons) are forbidden inside a temple (except during a public open house) and participants are still compelled to vow not to discuss the specifics of what takes place in the temple ceremony.


Whitney also expressed frustration when talking to Mormons, both “ordinary folks” and “right up to the general authorities.” She said it is “a rare experience for me” when a Mormon “owns the big, bold ideas of Mormonism.” This brings us to the subject of duplicity. Webster defines duplicity as contradictory doubleness of thought, speech, or action; especially the belying of one’s true intentions by deceptive words or action.”

Whitney’s experience is hardly unique. One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who are trying to understand the unique LDS theological positions of their Mormon acquaintances is that they rarely do so without a certain level of spin. For example, Mormons continue to insist that polygamy is a dead issue even though when pressed some will admit it will be practiced in the hereafter. The official LDS Newsroom web site currently denies that exalted Mormons will receive and rule over their own “planets,” despite the fact that several LDS leaders of the past taught this, and modern LDS manuals teach it today. Mormon leaders of the past were very clear as to why members of African heritage were banned from holding priesthood authority. Today LDS leaders claim to have no idea why such a practice was put in place.

In recent years it has become commonplace for Mormons to excuse the clear teachings of Mormon leaders by insisting their comments are not either “doctrine,” “official,” or “binding.” The irony is that a great many members believe those same teachings.

In the March 2012 issue of the Ensign magazine, Dieter F. Uchdorf of the First Presidency said, “Listen to general conference with an ear willing to hear the voice of God given through His latter-day prophets” (5). Yet, when Christians cite embarrassing statements Mormon prophets have made in general conference, they are often told that such comments are merely the “speculation” or “opinion” of the speaker—even though the Mormon they are talking to may personally believe what they insist is not official!

I’ve often said that much of the confusion people have about the LDS faith is generated by the very men Mormons insist are called by God to clarify LDS positions. How can the general public accurately understand what Mormonism is all about when LDS leaders obfuscate the particulars of any given belief?

One True Church

Mouw wants us to believe that the Mormon Church has shed its “rigid ‘one true church’ mentality.” But how can it discard this position without also disavowing Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” and Doctrine and Covenants 1:30? In this passage God says that those to whom these commandments were given are to “bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.”

This verse is continually cited by LDS general authorities.  For example, Apostle Boyd K. Packer, in a “seminary centennial broadcast address given on January 22, 2012,” delivered a message titled“How to Survive in Enemy Territory,” which was reprinted in the April 2012 edition of the New Era magazine. In that talk he told his student audience,

“You are not ordinary. You are very special. You are exceptional. How do I know that? I know that because you were born at a time and in a place where the gospel of Jesus Christ can come into your life through the teachings and activities of your home and of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is, as the Lord Himself has said, ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.’”

On June 25, 2010, Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks told a group of new mission presidents,

“A revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1831, soon after the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke of those who had been given ‘power to lay the foundation of this church.’ The Lord then referred to the Church as ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased’ (D&C 1:30). Because of this declaration of the Lord, we refer to this, His Church—our Church—as the ‘only true Church.’”

This speech was reprinted in the August 2011 Liahona magazine.

In an April 2008 general conference message Henry B. Eyring , First Counselor in the First Presidency, stated, “This is the true Church, the only true Church, because in it are the keys of the priesthood. . . Each of us must make an individual evaluation. First, we need to measure the depth of our gratitude for membership in the true Church of Jesus Christ.” (Ensign, May 2008, 20, 21). The title of his message? “The True and Living Church.”

The 2007 correlated manual titled Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, noted on page 543, “Through Joseph Smith, the choice seer of the latter days, the doctrines and saving ordinances of the gospel were revealed, and the true Church of Jesus Christ was once again established on the earth.”

The above examples are hardly exhaustive, but certainly they are enough to show that Mouw’s understanding of modern Mormonism is considerably lacking. The problem is, Mouw often makes irresponsible remarks when it comes to LDS teaching.

Mormons are quick to insist that statements of exclusivity do not mean that other church don’t have “some truth,” but even this comment smacks of duplicity since leaders have made it very clear that salvation (exaltation) can only be found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mouw has demonstrated time and time again that he is not a reliable source when it comes to modern Mormon teaching. And while he advises others to listen to Mormons, he seems content to limit his attention to a handful of BYU academics rather than a careful study of general conference messages and the correlated manuals that are meant to be an official means of understanding Mormonism. What is especially disconcerting is that  Mouw seems to care less when people who are familiar with Mormon history and doctrine try to correct his erroneous conclusions.

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