One of the things that has prompted this question is the controversial apology given by Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Nov. 2004. We will come on to the apology presently. Richard Mouw said in 2004,
“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.”
In defending Mormonism against the charge professor Mouw identifies four things that show Mormonism is not a cult and argues that the dialogue he describes shows these four things not to be true of Mormonism.
“Religious cults are very much us-versus-them.”
It is true that, traditionally, cults stand apart from the church as defined in the previous post. Professor Maouw clearly thinks that “open” dialogue marks a departure from this traditional stance thereby disqualifying Mormonism from being a cult.
But Mormonism is not a cult because it doesn’t altogether stand apart. Many groups stand apart, unfortunately, but still belong to the broad category of church because they stand in the traditions and culture of historical Christianity. Mormonism does not and has historically prided itself in that fact. The words of the seminal Mormon text, the Book of Mormon, understood to be describing our own day in prophecy, shows as much,
“Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (1 Nephi 14:10)
There is a strong and clear us-versus-them attitude in Mormonism so perhaps there is another explanation for the dialogue described by Professor Mouw.
2 The only ones with divine approval:
“Their adherents are taught to think that they are the only ones who benefit from divine approval.”
Again, dialogue seems to suggest a respect among Mormons for other churches, an acceptance that they have truth too. This, he suggests, is another reason for not categorising Mormonism among the cults.
Clearly, he has never read Joseph Smith's claim that all other churches “were all wrong, their creeds were an abomination in his sight, that those professors were corrupt.” (JSH 1:19)
Or heard a typical Mormon testimony that the Mormon Church is “the only true church on earth today.” I wonder has he considered the implications of Mormon missionaries’ taking this exclusivist message to his neighbours even as he dialogues with Mormon academics.
Mormonism brings a message of exclusivity to our neighbours every day so why would they dialogue with leaders of other churches?
“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.”
Well, it has to be admitted that in any engagement with Mormons there is indeed give-and-take after a fashion. But it is worth asking who is doing the giving and who the taking? And what is their purpose in dialogue? Is it the discovery of common ground? We will come on to that.
There certainly is such a thing as scholarship associated with Mormons but whether it works alongside others in pursuing the truth is seriously questionable.
The late Karl Sandberg, a lifelong Mormon and a French professor (emeritus) at Macalester College, shortly before his death at 69 in 2000 wrote a piece entitled Whither Mormon Scholarship? He wrote:
"There are Mormons who do scholarship in all of the various disciplines — they play by the same rules as everyone else, they participate in the same dynamics, and they produce the same kind of knowledge. This is not the case, however, when Mormons do scholarship about Mormonism or directly related subjects."
"There are prominent examples of Mormon scholarship whose purpose appears to be that of giving scholarly permission to people to believe what they already believed on subjective grounds and of answering and repulsing any perceived attacks on the Church."
He goes on to compare Mormon scholarship with the Greek myth of Procrustes.
The figure for this kind of scholarship is Procrustes,” he writes, “the robber chief of antiquity, who had a bed in his cave upon which he placed every prisoner taken by his band. If the prisoner was too short for the bed, he was stretched out, or if too long, chopped off. One could not know the length of anyone going into the cave, but one could be entirely sure of anyone coming out.
The result of a Procrustean scholarship is the inability to communicate with people outside of the walls. I have heard luminaries of Mormon scholasticism address professional groups-for example, a group of a hundred counselors and psychotherapists about a "Mormon view" of psychotherapy-and gave wonderful talks understandable to any sacrament meeting but totally baffling to the diverse group of professionals they addressed. Procrustes is convincing only to people who already admire the size of his bed.”(Whither Mormon Scholarship)
Could there be a better description of a cult than the bed of Procrustes? The truth is that there is the scholarship of academics who happen to be Mormons applying themselves to mainstream academic work but nothing you can call legitimate Mormon scholarship. In that context the thinker is made to fit the dogma.
4 Respect for Christian notables:
“These folks 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.”
But Mormons don't read any Christian leaders, authors, or commentators with the attitude of “what will I learn today?” There is no respect, just an exercise in quote mining. You and I might pick up a book on subjects from the authority of the Bible, the work of the Spirit, the person of Jesus and have our thinking challenged, our understanding deepened. This is the journey of every healthy Christian. Mormons, when they quote Christian commentators, proof-text them to reinforce their already established view of the world.
A true Christian might learn something from a wide range of sources, sacred and secular, but a Mormon brings what he already “knows” to what he reads and finds there what he wants to find. I have yet to meet a Mormon who will say, “I thought this way because that is the way my church taught me but my mind has been changed by reading this or that Christian thinker.”
They make the Christian thinker fit the bed of Mormonism. A Procrustean approach if ever there was one. They can speak warmly of such diverse characters as Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, Henry Nouwen and CS Lewis because they have no intefre4st in what they say, only in what they can make them say. The use to which they put the writings of C S Lewis, for example, is scandalous and Lewis would turn in his grave to find Mormons misquoting him to reinforce the idea that men become actual gods. We will look next time at that apology and the reason for their apparent penchant for dialogue and discover the real motive behind such initiatives.
That Apology and How Liberals go Native