According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a “cult” is defined as:
- formal religious veneration
- a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
- a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
- a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>
- great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : the object of such devotion c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion
On Friday, October 7, 2011, a prominent Baptist minister, Robert Jeffress, said in an interview that Mitt Romney is “a good, moral family person” but that he “is not a born-again follower of Jesus Christ” and he repeatedly, in that same interview, called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a “cult”. I quote from the video of the interview: “This is not some right wing fringe view. The Southern Baptist Convention… has labeled Mormonism as a cult, so that is a mainstream view that Mormonism is a cult”.
The purpose of this article is not to denigrate the Baptist Church, or the Southern Baptist Convention. However, Pastor Jeffress’ claims simply do not bear up well under scrutiny. First, let’s take each element of the above definition as it pertains to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
1) Formal religious veneration – Guilty as charged. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worships the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as His only begotten son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
2) A system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents – This definition likewise fits, as we do have a well-developed system of beliefs and ritual, which we believe is consistent with those of the church which was originally set up by Christ himself.
3) A religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents – Obviously, some consider our religion to be unorthodox, as clearly demonstrated by Pastor Jeffress’ comments. Merriam-Webster defines spurious as:
- outwardly similar or corresponding to something without having its genuine qualities
- of falsified or erroneously attributed origin
- of deceitful nature or quality
Many would claim that our attributed origin is falsified and of deceitful nature or quality. I know that this is not the case, but if one were to discount the first vision and the origins of the Book of Mormon, this definition would, all by itself, define the LDS Church as a cult, and validate Pastor Jeffress’ claim. I will, however, address this further below.
4) a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator - clearly this is irrelevant to this discussion.
5) great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : the object of such devotion c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion - as stated above, our devotion is to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This devotion has been clearly demonstrated for over 185 years through martyrdom, persecution, and incalculable individual suffering and sacrifice. This devotion has endured far beyond any definition of a literary or intellectual “fad”, and with 14 million members, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is only slightly smaller than the Southern Baptist Convention itself with just over 16 million members. This hardly qualifies as a “small group of people”.
Now, in an attempt to address the definition of “spurious”, let’s look at a little of the history of the Southern Baptist Convention (History taken from “The Reformed Reader” website, which claims itself to be “committed to historic Baptist and Reformed beliefs”). It was in 1520, only 3 years after Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, that the Anabaptist movement was born. Having broken away from the Catholic Church, the movement suffered deadly persecutions, being driven from Germany and Switzerland to Moravia, a region currently in the Czech Republic. They were soon driven by military force to the Netherlands, England, and to wherever they could escape the fierce persecution. Their leader, Jacob Hutter, comforted them, saying, “Be ye thankful unto God that ye are counted worthy to suffer persecutions and cruel exile for His name”.
In England, in 1576, a royal proclamation was issued in which it was ordained that all Baptists and other heretics should leave the land. The two branches of Anabaptists in Kirtland and Jackson County – Oh, no – make that England and Holland – struggled throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries against the prevailing churches, before a large group emigrated once again, this time to the New World. Their troubles didn’t end there, though, as they were again persecuted and driven to and fro by the Puritans.
A synopsis of the years between then and now should suffice in order to make our point. The Baptists, whose primary doctrinal distinction was a belief in baptism by immersion (many martyrs were ironically executed by drowning for their beliefs), and a rejection of infant baptism, consisted of individual churches established throughout the United States and England until, in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention was established.
So, this valiant group of reformation Christians who were:
- driven from country to country for their beliefs
- clearly considered to be on the fringes of Christianity
- clearly considered unorthodox and “outwardly similar or corresponding to….” the dominant churches (both the Catholic Church and the Church of England) of the time….”without having its genuine qualities”
- whose origins were most certainly considered by many to be of falsified or erroneously attributed origin of deceitful nature or quality
survived for 3¼ centuries before they banded together and eventually became the largest Protestant denomination in the world. It is not difficult to conclude from this that the requirement for graduation from “cult” to “mainstream” is simply survival over time. This reminds me of the 3rd grader bullied by the older kids, who is now the 6th grader who now picks on the 3rd graders in the school.
It is ironic that Pastor Jeffress and the Southern Baptist Convention appear to be positioning themselves as the persecuting authority of our day, judging others’ “cult” status and Christianity just as their progenitors’ persecutors did 400 years ago; and that the Southern Baptist Convention has apparently set itself up as the standard against which all other churches must be measured. Of course, their defenders will launch all the stale attacks such as: “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible” (2 Nephi, 29:3); or “men are saved by grace, not by works”, but is this really so different from the founding Anabaptist beliefs supporting baptism by immersion and rejecting infant baptism? I’m sure that Pastor Jeffress is a “good, moral family person” and I would never put myself in a position to question his Christianity, but I would suggest that perhaps he should make the attempt to broaden his personal and historical perspective, even about his own church, before he makes accusations like the ones he made in his interview of October 7, 2011.