Americans regularly are exposed to cults, cultic behavior, and cult suicides with the poster boy for the same being Jim Jones whose descent into insanity and depravity gave us the sad phrase "drinking the Kool Aid" as a metaphor for unquestioning acceptance of ideology or unhesitant following of some leader. Sad, because this phrase is tossed around in political circles with little remembrance that almost a thousand people, including children, suffered untimely deaths in that deplorable episode of the People's Temple in Guyana.
So how is the term "cult" working for us with regard to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Mitt Romney's church, commonly called Mormons?
Not so good, I'd say.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of one of the SBC's highest profile churches even if the church has declined somewhat from its halcyon days, notably labeled Romney a member of a "cult" recently, to the winces of many. The label caused not a few sensible evangelicals to try and explain things a bit better.
'Well,' they say, 'we have theological cults and sociological cults' and one might add fringe cults and mainstream cults, powerful cults and powerless cults. By the time you get out all the explanations and caveats the audience is long gone.
Jeffress himself has taken time to walk back his earlier comments: "Mormonism has never been considered a part of evangelical historic Christianity," he rightly and more appropriately said.
He also said, "I am not a Jeremiah Wright on the fringe, making fanatical statements," leading one to ask, why, if he is not a Jeremiah Wright fringe type, would he feel the need to state the same?
Clearly, Mitt Romney is not Jim Jones. Manifestly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is not a fringe group, though other splinter Mormons clearly are, just read about convicted child rapist Warren Jeffs and Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Jeffress has even stated that he would vote for cult member Romney, making for an odd marriage of conviction and convenience.
Those of us of a certain advanced middle age grew up with this terminology. Mormonism is a cult. Still is, but we have to define the term better, exactly what we have to do when explaining what Mormons mean when they use our terminology like "Jesus" and "God." So, if we have to explain what we mean by "cult" why not start with a more appropriate term?
We should certainly be good stewards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which means identifying heresy and aberrant theology that masquerades under the broad term 'Christian' but 'cult' is such a loaded word. By the time you get around to explaining that you're not classifying LDS with The People's Temple or Mitt Romney with Warren Jeffs, you've lost too much ground to make up.
Mormonism will be no less considered to be far from orthodox Christianity if the term is not used, and we may find more usefulness in some other appelation.
I just don't know what the term would be.
One thing for sure. You will not hear Robert Jeffress introduce Rick Perry again anytime soon.