“Mormonism is a cult.” So declared Dr. Robert Jeffress, the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, when interviewed after introducing Gov. Rick Perry to the Value Voters Summit (VVS) held last weekend in Washington, D.C.
The VVS was sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, Liberty University, and other groups noted for their conservative religious and political stance. The flier advertising the event quotes Sean Hannity saying that the VVS is “the premier conservative event now in the country.”
All of the major Republican presidential candidates were there, as well as some sitting U.S. Senators and Representatives (all Republicans). But it was Rev. Jeffress’ statement about Mormonism which got the most press coverage as he puffed Mr. Perry and cast aspersions on Mr. Romney.
The next day a Thinking Friend sent me a link to “Mormonism Takes Center Stage,” an article by Rachel Weiner in the October 7 Washington Post. And he posed this question, “Is Mormonism a cult?”
Of course the answer depends largely on how the word cult is defined. The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines cult as “a system of religious beliefs and ritual.” In that sense, of course Mormonism is a cult, as is every other denomination or religion.
But the same dictionary also gives this definition: “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious.” This is most likely the view of Mormonism that Rev. Jeffress had in mind.
It is clear that Mormonism is not one of the historic, “mainstream” Christian denominations. It was organized in 1830, based upon special revelation received by Joseph Smith, who translated The Book of Mormon and began the first meetings that grew into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the official name of what we usually call the Mormon Church.
It is looking more and more as if Mr. Romney will be the Republican candidate for President next year. But does it make any difference if he is a Mormon, even if Mormonism could be accurately described as a cult in a negative sense? I think not.
There are no legal religious requirements for public office in the United States, and for good reason. Religious freedom is a longstanding, and important, principle of national life.
Al Smith was defeated in the 1928 presidential election partly because he was a Catholic. But as most people came to see after the election of JFK, it didn’t make any real difference in public policy for the President to be a Catholic.
And the same sort of thing would most likely be true if Mr. Romney should be elected President next year.
If Mr. Romney does become the Republican candidate for President, though, I won’t vote for him. (In fact, I am not likely to vote for any Republican candidate any time soon.) But it won’t be because he is a member of a “cult.”
I won’t vote for Mr. Romney because of his political ideas and the platform of the party on which he stands. And I hope that all voters will cast their ballots on the basis of political conviction and not because of religious, or any other type of, prejudice.