I’ve been asked a lot recently to comment on whether Mormonism should be considered a cult.
It has be made clear that significant doctrinal differences divide Mormonism from historic, biblical Christianity. For example, Joseph Smith taught that God has not always been God. The underlying world view that drives Mormonism is radically different at key points from the biblical Christian world view.
In the narrow theological definition of a cult, that makes Mormonism a cult.
However, most people don’t have that in mind when they use or hear the term “cult”. Most people think of aberrant groups like poison-Kool-Aid-drinking Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, or the Heaven’s Gate group that committed mass suicide to join the extra-terrestrials behind the Hale-Bopp comet.
Because of these popular associations, the word “cult” carries a pretty strong pejorative sense. When Latter-day Saints hear us call Mormonism a cult, they take it as an insult.
It’s analogous to how I feel when Latter-day Saints label me as an ‘anti-Mormon’ just because I’ve written books about Mormonism that don’t agree with the LDS perspective. It’s a title meant to convey disrespect, fear, and loathing. I don’t think I’ve written anything that is ‘anti-Mormon’. But that’s how Mormons feel when we label them a cult.
The point is that doing so cuts off communication. We end up arguing about mere labels instead of talking about the issues behind the labels.
Another thing: even the theological definition falls short, because it is limiting. It assumes that Latter-day Saints are only about what they believe. But there is so much more to the LDS identity and experience than doctrine alone.
If our goal is to actually share the good news of God’s unconditional grace in Jesus Christ, the way to do so is not to call people names. We can do better. We can find other language that communicates the vast doctrinal differences without needlessly insulting people.