Richard Mouw, offered this apology at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Nov. 2004 just before Ravi Zacharias stood and gave an inspired and inspiring sermon on the gospel:
“I am now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the LDS folks here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you. We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe.”
The first question that springs to mind is who gave Professor Mouw the right to speak for Evangelicals? Mormons make great play of the fact that they “do not speak for the church.” On every blog and website, in every book, periodical and article you will find a version of this disclaimer.
Given the Mormons’ history of leaving hostages to fortune, from the self-aggrandising pronouncements of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to the scandalous statements of Bruce R McConkie in his Mormon Doctrine and the shocking prevarications and obfuscations of Gordon B Hinckley, you can understand this. Of course, such disclaimers are now ubiquitous leaving us wondering if anyone actually speaks for the Mormon Church.
But Richard Mouw apologising on behalf of Evangelicals makes about as much sense as Hans Kung apologising on behalf of Catholics, or Mitt Romney on behalf of Mormons. The connection of one with the other is tenuous at best.
Fuller Seminary is the seed bed of the Church Growth Movement in which pragmatism trumps truth and spirituality trumps spiritual integrity. It promotes the Emerging Church Movement and celebrates the questionable teachings of Rob Bell and others. How can Mouw say such a thing?
Buying the Mormon Idiom
This is a classic example of someone parroting the Mormon line instead of critically examining the facts. Mormonism didn't start when, in 1820, Joseph Smith claimed he had a vision. The first reliable mention of the Book of Mormon outside Smith's immediate circle was June 11th 1829 when he obtained a copyright for it at the US District Court. Before that time all we have are fables, unsubstantiated claims, all of which came to light after the establishment of the church.
It was only later that he told the story of the vision because he had to have some account of how he obtained the book. Yet we all too easily do the Mormons' work for them by telling the story of Mormonism the way they tell it, even as we criticise and challenge Mormon beliefs. This is what Richard Mouw does here.
Richard Mouw has said, “For the past dozen years, I’ve been co-chairing, with Professor Robert Millet of Brigham Young University – the respected Mormon school - a behind-closed-doors dialogue between about a dozen evangelicals and an equal number of our Mormon counterparts.”
He tells the story of persecuted and misrepresented Mormonism because that's the way Mormons tell it and he has spent so much time with them he has simply gone native. Ironically, in making his apology he demonstrates eloquently why Mormons engage in these exercises, i.e. not to find truth together but, as Jude 16 tells it, to win over respectable names to their cause.
Mormons have not been misrepresented and there is very little misunderstanding of Mormonism. If Mormons wish to claim that critics don't understand Mormonism I would issue a counter challenge and say that Mormons cannot honestly and reasonably answer Mormonism's critics!
So, to answer the question posed by the title of this short series, Mormonism is a cult in terms established and understood by sociologists, by Christian leaders and academics alike. “Cult” is not a pejorative but a description. The only “Christians” saying otherwise are liberals who would rather be branded with hot irons than define a doctrine, identify an orthodoxy or draw a line in the sand.