Q & R: Mormons

Here’s the Q:

I have a question for you on what you think about Mormons. You seem to have a very inclusive theology about who’s a Christian and who’s not–actually I suppose you would make the point that drawing battle lines is not overly helpful, but still I’m wondering what you think. Traditionally Christians have seen Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses as a cult and I’m wondering what you think of them. Are they a cult? And also, what is the criteria of determining if a church is a cult or not?

A: Rather than talking about Mormonism as a system, let me talk about individual Mormons I meet. Most of them were born into Mormon families, and they’re being faithful to their family tradition – just as many Episcopalians, Southern Baptists, Lutherans, and non-denominationalists are. Most of us believe what we were taught by respected authority figures, and many of us never question it – either because it works for us, or because the cost of questioning is just too high.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised how many “born and bred” Mormons have read my books – especially Secret Message of Jesus, Everything Must Change, and A New Kind of Christianity – and told me how much they got from the books. I think that in Mormonism, just as in most faith communities, there is a deep need for rethinking, revisioning, rediscovery, reform, and rebirth. The conditions that gave birth to Mormonism, like the conditions that gave birth to many of Christian denominations, have changed, and now we must rediscover who we are and what we’re about in a new, dynamic context. I’m glad my books are helpful in that process, especially because they focus not on a religion – Christianity, Mormonism, etc. – but on Jesus and his message of the Kingdom, reign, dream, dance, or ecosystem of God.
The word “cult” has been used by traditional Christians to point out deficiencies in newer groups who differed in key doctrinal areas. I wonder what word we would use for groups that upheld traditional doctrinal formulations, but lost their soul – through racism in our past against Jews, Native Americans, and African Americans, for example – and through prejudice and hate today towards Arabs (many of whom are Christian, by the way) and Muslims … or carelessness towards the planet, etc.
Those who spend a lot of energy applying the cult label to others may be right in their assessment. But they may be missing the plank in their own eyes at the same time. There’s something dangerous about saying, “We see!” Ironically, the louder and more often you say it, the less your see.
So I’m always glad to meet Mormons who are rediscovering Jesus and his good news of the reign of God … just as I am to meet Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, etc. To me, Jesus and his good news are the most essential issue, not religious affiliation. If we come together seeking to know and follow Christ better, we will have a different kind of conversation than we will if we come together to apply labels upon one another like cult, liberal, conservative, inclusive, exclusive, or whatever.