Judging Cults

Hi, my mom and I were talking with my protestant grandparents and we were saying Mormonism is a cult (which it is) then she said, well it isn’t for us to judge. Any defenses for this? How do we know Mormonism is a cult and how is it for us to judge? Thanks!

I’m not technically sure because I thought a cult can mean just a starting religion that isnt over 100 years old. However, there is a degree of indoctrination that can be cultish in the new sense of the word.

I think your grandparents were using the phrase not to say we aren’t sure if they are a cult, but that we shouldn’t criticize or say something is wrong because that is judging and Jesus told us not to judge. That is just silly. We are to say that an idea or an action is wrong, but we shouldn’t go around saying that everyone is going to Hell.

It depends on the definition of “cult.”

Some Christians regard a “cult” as something which claims to have a Christian foundation but is radically different from any other Christian group. By this definition the LDS (and the JWs) are certainly a “cult.”

Others (including me) define “cult” as a group which is centered around a particular individual (David Koresh, Jim Jones, etc). It could hardly be said that the Mormons are centered around Joseph Smith - the modern (mainline) Mormon Church scarcely resembles the church of Smith. One might argue that it is more centered around Brigham Young, but it is a weak case.

I’ve been to Scouting meetings held in Mormon halls and schools - there is much religious artwork depicting scenes from the Book of Mormon, but I have yet to see any deception of Smith or Young. They do not qualify as a “cult” by my preferred definition.

At any rate, the term “cult” is normally regarded as pejorative (though it is not), and thus I rarely use it - it serves no purpose (and it often serves the WRONG purpose by prompting the listener to come to the defense of the Mormons). I prefer terms such as “quasi-Christian” or “psuedo-Christian” which actually ARE pejorative but are not usually taken as such.

Or just come right out and say “non-Christian.” This is a non-judgmental and defensible term.

cult |kəlt|
a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object : the cult of St. Olaf.
• a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister : a network of Satan-worshiping cults.
• a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing : a cult of personality surrounding the leaders.
• [usu. as adj. ] a person or thing that is popular or fashionable, esp. among a particular section of society : a cult film.

Some people claim that the Catholic Church is a cult, and/or that Early Christianity was a cult (connected ideas of course). Personally I think there are more dangers than benefits to this contemporary idea of a “cult.” The definition is extremely subjective or debatable, and simultaneously extremely negative. That’s a dangerous combination which could and does easily lead to misuse, by individuals or, worse, eventually by the State. I would rather criticize a religious movement based on its actual flaws rather than just proclaiming “it’s a cult.”

Most Christians consider the Mormon church to be a cult. As seen that noun has a very specific definition that can and cannot be applied to this group because of the definition. I think the safest classification is to call them Non Christian because they do not believe in all of the beliefs that unite Christians together. I don’t think we have the right to judge any group especially this one but I do think we need to know what our church believes in, understand the deep theology so that whenever one meets one and they try to convert you at least by knowing your stuff you can be a vehicle to interreligious dialogue. Who knows maybe God might use someone to bring someone into the church as well.

God works in mysterious ways.

DavidFilmer said, “Others (including me) define ‘cult’ as a group which is centered around a particular individual (David Koresh, Jim Jones, etc).”

As other posters have noted, this definition would probably include Christianity itself because it is centered around one individual - Jesus Christ.

I agree with Aelred Minor that the definition of “cult” has become subjective at best and in today’s culture is probably more a pejorative label than being representative of anything truly objective.

From my perspective as a Mormon, I think that “Dr.” Walter Martin did as much as anyone to co-opt the term and give it the negative definition that comes to most of our minds today (The Rise of the Cults, 1955; Walter Martin’s Cults Reference Bible, 1976; Walter Martin Speaks out on the Cults, 1981; The New Cults, 1984; and his magnum opus The Kingdom of the Cults, 1985 [with many other editions that followed]). He says “It is typical of cults that they blind their followers to the truth and alienate them from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.”

There used to be published in Oklahoma (maybe still is) an anti-Mormon paper The Evangel, that charged Mormonism with being a cult because it is excessively devoted to one person, it adds to the word of God, it requires works in addition to grace, it uses unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control, it tells its members that it and they are good while the ouside world is evil, and because such usage is generally accepted: “practically everyone who writes on the American cults includes Mormonism” (see Offenders for a Word - How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, p. 199).

So for me, our buddies in the “counter-cult ministries” that are a subset of Evangelical Christianity are the ones to thank for redefining the term in our day. Unfortunately, they tend to crack on you Catholics almost as much as we Mormons, but not to the same extent because of things like your shared acceptance of the concept of Trinity, which we do not embrace.

I believe, the Catholic Church defines cults as those non-Catholic Christian communities that do not have Trinitarian Baptism.

In the same chapter where Jesus tells us not to comdem people, he tells us to test the fruit of prophets to determine if they are true or false. Juding Mormonism is really, testing the fruit of Joseph Smith. One test is if a prophets prophecies comes true, another test is if he leds people to follow other gods, Smith fails both tests.

It is wrong to judge people. (That is, to decide whether or not folks are following God to the best of their understanding. Or, worse, to say that “so-and-so is going to hell”)
On the other hand, we are to show discernment as to belief systems, & lifestyle choices. As, it is not only OK, but necessary for us to distinguish whether the teachings of a group are in alignment w/ orthodox Christian thought. It is also necessary (& therefore commendable) to see that murder, adultery, and the like, are sinful.
It is often true, :(sadly, that we are either too harsh in our judgments of persons, & too hesitant to call a sin a sin.

My personal definition would be an insular group with a shared and unique belief system that is focused around a single charismatic (living) leader, that drastically restricts its members’ movements and freedoms and resources, that lives in a shared group environment, and that forbids contacts with the outside world other than (perhaps) closely supervised recruitment activities.

I would focus less on the belief system and more on the interaction between the cult’s leadership and its followers. Jim Jones, Charlie Manson, David Koresh, and the Haley-Bopp suicide cult would all qualify, but Mormonism would not. North Korea could be seen as kind of a nationwide cult.

Bald assertions really don’t do much to persuade me.

The term “cult” is thrown around way too much today.
Especially by hard-line evangelicals, who mean well, but seem
to paint with too broad a brush and make too many wild generalizations.
They will often assert categorically that a member of these
smaller religions is automatically “unsaved” or “damned” or “on the way to hell”
because of the mere intellectual mistakes/doctrinal errors of their religious organization.
They will also judge other evangelicals very harshly too, witness
hardline Calvinists’ attacks on “arminians.”
We have errors in our thinking about God all the time.
While I regard orthodox doctrine as very important,
I don’t believe that God is ragingly angry with an otherwise-godfearing person
just because he or she can’t, at least yet, grasp the concept of the Trinity
or the Assumption of Holy Mary.

And why would the two tests quoted be ‘bald assertions’? They show a couple of very basic departures from the teachings of Christianity through out history. Also, we see historic Christianity presented in scripture as we read in Acts.

Of course I find far more problems in LDS than just those mentioned.

she is perfectly correct, it is for the Church to judge, not for individuals

Certainly, in its beginnings Mormonism was very cultish in nature.

-‪ The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

-‪ Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

-‪ Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

  • The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
  • The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
  • The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
  • The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
  • The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
  • The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
  • Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
  • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
  • The group is preoccupied with making money.
  • Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
  • Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
  • The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

Mormonism has been trying to become more mainstream within the last 30-40 years. But it has cultish aspects that remain.

Catholicism uses the word “cult” to mean a group of people who are following the charism of one person, ie , the cult of Mary.

But this is not the usage being discussed. It more towards the groups that arise out of mainstream society, claiming special knowledge, relationship to God, that is centered on someone (a charismatic leader).

Jesus Christ is not a charismatic leader. Jesus IS GOD. Making the comparison of Joseph Smith to Jesus Christ is something that will set off the cult alarm bells of any Christian, so, it isn’t a good argument to make against the idea that Mormonism is a cult.


You want “defenses” for your accusation that we’re a “cult”? Someone’s really done a number on you.


Since when is the assumption that mormons are a cult a central part of Catholic doctrine?

Historically, the word that your church had for people like us is “heretic.” Meaning that we believe in Jesus, but have some beliefs that are irreconcilable with yours.

I’m OK with you calling me an heretic. From your point of view, it’s even true.

But when you use words like “cult,” you’re buying into Evangelical Protestant brainwashing. You’re not even being true to your own church. It’s like cutting off your own nose, to spite us. And why? What have we done to you, to deserve what can only be called a theological suicide attack?

That’s right. But lumen is using the word in the brainwashed Protestant Evangelical sense, not in the Catholic sense.

Making the comparison of Joseph Smith to Jesus Christ is something that will set off the cult alarm bells of any Christian, so, it isn’t a good argument to make against the idea that Mormonism is a cult.

Hold your horses, Rebecca. That’s gross misrepresentation. Lefty did not compare Joseph Smith to Jesus Christ. He used the example to point out the problem with your definition. Should people who don’t believe that Jesus is God, such as Buddhists, refer to Catholics as a cult because they follow one Person? (As in One God in Three Persons).

[cult] points more towards the groups that arise out of mainstream society, claiming special knowledge, relationship to God, that is centered on someone (a charismatic leader).

Mormons regard Joseph Smith as equivalent to Moses. No more. Do you think Jews to be a “cult” because of their regard for Moses?

Your personal definition has come to be the way most people use the word. Cult has become a bad word. There is a wall built between the believers and the larger society. Odd beliefs will do this effectively and may be introduced for that reason. The way a religion interacts with the society around them defines whether they are a cult or not. There is an 'us/ them mentality cultivated in ‘cultic’ religions. Usually this mentality is projected onto the society that surrounds the cult.

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