As Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith has become an issue in the GOP presidential nomination race prompting the Latter-day Saints to launch an ad campaign, the President of Fuller Theological Seminary Richard J. Mouw has declared, though cautiously, that Mormonism is not a cult.
“While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology, I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior,” Mouw, head of the Pasadena, Calif., seminary wrote in an article on CNN Sunday.
But can Mormons be called Christians? Mouw said that’s a “complicated question.”
Mouw’s careful defense of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came two days after Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas called Mormonism a “cult.” He made the comments minutes after introducing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an evangelical Christian and Romney’s top rival, at Friday’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.
Jeffress continues to stand ground on his comments. “I have not changed my position,” Jeffress told the 2,000 congregants at his church Sunday.
Mouw disagrees, saying religious cults – such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology and Hare Krishna – are “very much us-versus-them.” “Their adherents are taught to think that they are the only ones who benefit from divine approval,” he wrote on the CNN blog. “They don’t like to engage in serious, respectful give-and-take dialogue with people with whom they disagree … Nor do they promote the kind of scholarship that works alongside others in pursuing the truth.”
Mouw said he had been co-chairing, with Prof. Robert Millet of the Mormon Brigham Young University, a behind-closed-doors dialogue between evangelicals and Mormons for over a decade. “We evangelicals and our Mormon counterparts disagree about some important theological questions,” he admitted. “But we have also found that on some matters we are not as far apart as we thought we were,” he added.
Mormons reject one of Christianity’s central tenets – the Trinity, the belief in one God in three Persons. They also believe Joseph Smith Jr. is the first latter-day prophet who restored the original Christian church in the 19th century in America. They believe the entire structure of Christian orthodoxy affirmed by the post-apostolic church is corrupt and false. Additionally, Latter-day Saints are often criticized for their belief in “divine” books of scripture, aside from the Bible, including the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
But the Fuller president said Mormons “talk admiringly of the evangelical Billy Graham and the Catholic Mother Teresa, and they enjoy reading the evangelical C.S. Lewis and Father Henri Nouwen, a Catholic. That is not the kind of thing you run into in anti-Christian cults.”
Mormons are responding to criticism. After Jeffress’ remarks, the LDS issued an official statement. “We really don’t want to comment on a statement made at a political event, but those who want to understand the centrality of Christ to our faith can learn more about us and what we believe by going to mormon.org,” it said.
LDS Dems Interim Chair Senator Ben McAdams and Interim Vice-Chair Crystal Young-Otterstrom also issued a statement Friday saying they were “appalled and disappointed by Jeffress’ statement that Mormons are not Christian.”
This month, the LDS launched an “I’m a Mormon campaign” in 12 cities in seven states of America, featuring ads on television, city buses and billboards asking people to visit the church’s website to learn about its beliefs and followers.
The Associated Press on Sunday reported that the LDS was airing ads in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and South Bend in Indiana, home to over 41,000 Mormons.
“A lot of people are not familiar with our faith, Tom Burdett of Noblesville, president of the Muncie Stake (similar to a diocese), said. “The best way to understand Mormons is to meet them and get to know them. The ads are an invitation to do that.”
According to a LifeWay Research survey conducted in 2010, 60 percent of Protestant pastors strongly disagree that they consider Mormons to be Christians and another 15 percent somewhat disagree.