November 25, 2013 by mattfradd
Last week I wrote an article, 1 Very Useful Tactic When Dialoging With Mormons.
I have to say that I was surprised at the amount of interest it generated.
One of the comments read:
Ask a Mormon if there has ever been a verified miracle in their cult, there hasn’t. Ask one why Joey P. Smith who made all the nonsense, couldn’t convince his wife at the time of any of the nonsense. I have watched the BYU channel on television, and it is very sad to see decent looking, seemly educated white people talking nonsense about that cult.
The commenter went on to use the word cult four more times. His comment made my skin crawl a little. Is this the “gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15) that St. Peter said we ought to use when defending our faith? I think not. Either way, it got me thinking. Is Mormonism a cult? And what does cult mean anyway?
In this post I’d like to make the case that Mormonism is not a cult.
Looking forward to your colorful comments below. 🙂
Cult: Then and Now
The term ‘cult’ has a very different meaning today than it did originally. It was once used (and in some cases still is) as a term to describe a system of ritual practice. Hence, Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation, Marialis Cultus, or, in English, Marian Devotion.
Another example can be found in a general audience of Pope John Paul II where he quoted the Second Vatican Council, urging that “the cult … of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and that the practices and exercises of devotion towards her, recommended by the teaching authority of the Church in the course of centuries, be highly esteemed”.
Over the years, however, “the word cult has come to denote a relatively small, far-from-mainstream group that typically displays several characteristics such as centering around a highly charismatic leader, utilization of mind control techniques, the giving of large amounts of money/possessions to the group, inability to leave at will, and other similar issues that revolve around control.” 
Due to this confusion, the word cult, it seems to me, has become essentially useless; little more than a 4-letter slur people lodge at one another to dismiss them out of hand. After all, If you’re a part of a cult, I don’t have to take you seriously. I don’t have to take the time to listen to you.
That said, perhaps you disagree with me. Perhaps you think that cult does have a hard and fast definition and that that definition describes Mormonism perfectly. Well, let’s look at that. I’ve researched several reputable online dictionaries and found that the term ‘cult’ had several common elements.
Let’s take a look at them and see if they describe Mormonism:
1. A relatively small group of people
Mormons have around 13 million members in over 100 countries throughout the world. Not what I’d call a relatively small group.
2. Religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
Now if you’re not a Mormon and know anything about their teachings, you’ll probably agree with me that they believe a lot of strange stuff! But does that really justify us in calling them a cult?
If it does then it also justifies non-Catholics in calling Catholicism a cult. The immaculate conception? The Scapular? The Eucharist? Now, some of you are going to accuse me of putting Catholic teaching on the same level as Mormon teaching; I’m not doing that. I think the Catholic is justified in believing these three things and the Mormon lacks justification for, say, thinking that God (the one we are supposedly bound to worship) lives on or near a planet called Kolob. But this doesn’t change the fact that Catholic teaching cannot and does not appear strange, or even sinister to those who aren’t Catholic. 
3. A great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work.
Now, while one can argue, as I certainly do, that Joseph Smith was a false prophet and therefore undeserving of great devotion, that’s not how the Dictionary defines cult. It isn’t interested in the person’s credibility, just whether the group has great devotion to him.
If Mormonism can be labeled a cult based on this definition then so can Catholicism. Let’s look at each category. Person: St. Jude. Idea: God loves us and sent his son to die for us so that we can have the possibility of spending eternity with him in Heaven. Object: ah, this medal around my neck. Movement or work: the proclamation of the Gospel?
4. Controlled by threats of isolation
I often hear Christians telling horror stories of Mormons who left Mormonism only to have their family and friends shun them. Okay, perhaps this happens in some circumstances, but—and unless you can prove me wrong on this—it’s not an official teaching of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If some Mormons are acting in this way then they’re not acting consistently with what their religion teaches.
Any justification a person might think he has from dictionary definitions for labeling Mormonism a cult, I think, can be turned around to make any religion seem cult-like. It’s all relative.
Does all of this mean that we should not be evangelizing Mormons? Of course not. I just think that telling them that they’re a part of a cult is neither helpful nor accurate.
Instead of quibbling over terms that have no objective agreed upon definition we should discuss the substance of what they believe, help them see why they’re in error and share the truth with them with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15).
If you’re looking for a substantive and charitable debate between a Christian and a Mormon, you should download Patrick Madrid’s debate with Elder Gary Coleman, The First Catholic — Mormon Dialogue
 I found this insightful quote on a bluelight forum (http://www.bluelight.ru/vb/archive/index.php/t-608517.html?s=f8f7068e5e1a375b3bdc3104d840d59a)
 For example, The Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil is considered sinister by a growing number of Americans, wouldn’t you say?