Are Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons Cults?

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ARE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES (WATCHTOWER FOLLOWERS) AND MORMONS (LDS OR LATTER-DAY SAINTS) “CULTS”?

The word “cult” conjures up a variety of ideas in the minds of people.  From the 80 Branch Davidians who followed David Koresh to their fiery death in a Waco compound in 1993 to the 38 Heaven’s Gate followers of Marshall Applewhite who drank poison, committing suicide in an attempt to catch a ride on an alleged spaceship of the 1993 Hale-Bopp Comet, people often think of cultists as weird individuals who isolate themselves into compounds and communes and practice strange beliefs.  But, not all cultists and cult groups fit this stereotype image.  Many of the most deadly cults are much more subtle in their tactics and present a respectable image to the public that often attracts thousands, if not millions to their ranks.  

While many in the Christian community label religious groups “cults” if they do not adhere to the basic, fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, our ministry is much more cautious about the methods we use in labeling groups “cults.” We agree that doctrine plays a significant part in determining if a group qualifies to be called “Christian,” but not every group that holds heretical doctrine is to be regarded as a cult.  Thus, we choose to label “cults” based not on doctrine, but whether or not the group exercises the mental and sociological control elements common in cults and recognized by secular counter-cult experts.

There are many sociological aspects we can examine to determine if a group fits the criteria of a “cult,” but one of the easiest models to use in evaluating cult mind-control is given by Steven Hassan in his book Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, published in 2000 by Freedom of Mind Press, Somerville MA.  In chapter two, he gives four basic components of mind control, which form the acronym BITE. We will examine a brief summary of these elements, apply them to both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and contrast each cult control element with true Biblical teaching.  You will see by the examples given below, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons implement cult mind-control on their followers to various degrees.  Some elements of mind-control will be more evident than others.  The simple fact that one may find mind-control elements existing within a group does not necessarily mean that the group should categorically be labeled a “cult,” but when the majority of mind-control elements examined below are being exercised within the group, the label “cult” can honestly be applied.

B – Behavior Control
I – Information Control
T – Thought Control
E – Emotional Control

Behavior Control – Regulation of an individual’s physical reality: A high dependence on the guidance of cult leadership is fostered.  Rigid rules dictate how and where members live and who they associate with. They require a major commitment of finances and leisure time and control food, drink, dress, and hairstyles. There is a high level of supervision, spying and reporting of thoughts, feelings and personal activities to cult leaders.

Control Element

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Mormons

Biblical Freedom

How and Where to Live

No formal control on members. 1.  However, the  Watchtower objective of serving in “territories where the need is great” motivates some to move to selected areas of cities or foreign countries to assist in promoting the goals of the organization. No formal control for regular members.  However, Mormon missionaries (serving 2-year “missions” for the LDS church) are under tight regulations on where, how to live, and how to use their time. No formal control for Christians.  Followers live and fellowship wherever they decide.  Missionaries in the book of Acts are led by the “Holy Spirit” to areas in which to minister the gospel.

Association

High Control of Association – Friendships with non-members are to be avoided except in the case of proselytizing.  If the non-member refuses to convert to the religion, contact is to be limited or stopped completely. Anyone who “opposes” the belief system is to be avoided. Moderate Control of Association – Friendships with non-members are allowed, but members are encouraged to use all opportunities to promote the religion in an attempt to attract potential converts.  Anyone who “opposes” the belief system is to be avoided. Low Control of Association – Christians are warned against fellowship with people of corrupt moral character (1 Cor. 15:33).  However, Christians are encouraged to “become all things to all men,” living a godly life before unbelieving friends (1 Cor. 9:20-23).2.

Finances

Low Control of Finances – Members are not required to “tithe” (give 10% of income) but they are strongly encouraged to donate to the organization and to pay for the Watchtower literature they distribute.  All donations received for the literature are to be given to the organization, even if the literature had already been previously paid for by members.  In this way, the organization often receives double payment for its literature.  The organization also encourages the donation of personal property in estate wills and trusts. Moderate Control of Finances – Tithing (giving 10% of all income) is required for members who desire to gain exaltation into the highest level of Mormon salvation. The annual “tithing settlement” (interview with Mormon leadership) is the time when members declare whether or not their annual tithe has been fully paid.  If lacking, members may be accused of breaking the “law of tithing” and warned that they are “stealing from the Lord.” Repercussions for not paying the full tithe result in being excluded from entrance into LDS temples and all the rights associated with it.  Members may also will their personal property to the church. No Control of Finances – While the Old Testament advocated the use of the tithe (10% gift) to support national and spiritual services (Malachi 3:8-10), in some religious groups this passage has been misapplied as a “law” binding upon Christians.  This is not the case because the New Testament encourages Christians to give any amount that is on their hearts as long as it is given willingly and “not under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7).

Time

High Time Commitment – Little to no free time is allowed Jehovah’s Witnesses. Members are constantly encouraged to use vacation time from work or school in service to the organization. They are discouraged from allowing their children to participate in non-Jehovah’s Witness social gatherings and after school activities as it may inhibit their service in the Watchtower organization.  There are no special “Sunday School” classes for children.  All Jehovah’s Witnesses (children along with adults) are required to attend and participate in five meetings each week, to study and prepare to “comment” on Watchtower magazine articles and books, to distribute Watchtower and Awake magazines door-to-door, and to conduct proselytizing “studies” with potential converts who they recruit door-to-door.  If a member is found lacking in the number of “hours” and “studies” he reports for the month, he may be reprimanded by leaders and threatened with the loss of “privileges” (i.e., responsibilities) in the organization. High Time Commitment – Free time in Mormonism involves family fun activities and social gatherings, but everything is centered around the LDS Church.  Mormonism is its own culture.  From LDS sponsored boy scout troops, music choirs, drama teams and food service programs to required attendance and participation at LDS Church meetings, Monday night Family Home Evenings, temple work and church service callings.  Mormons are kept so busy that free-time and socialization outside the religion is very limited. Balanced Time Commitment – Scripture commends the offering of the Christian life as a “living sacrifice” to God (Rom. 12:1). It warns not to forsake Christian “assembling together” for encouragement and admonition in good works (Heb. 10:24-25).  But, nowhere does it give a regulation on how many meetings and service activities one must participate in.  Neither is spirituality measured by the amount of “time” one spends in Christian “good works.”  Rather, balance between Christian activities and leisurely free-time is encouraged; for even Jesus sought rest away from ministering to crowds during His earthly ministry.

Food, Drink, Dress, Hairstyles

Moderate Control of Dress and Hairstyles – Except for banning participation in holiday celebrations, no admonition is given against the consumption of certain foods or drinks, nor is the amount of food and drink monitored. However, compliance with the Watchtower dress and hairstyle requirement is held up as a qualifying standard for certain service “privileges” within the congregation.  Females are required to wear dresses or skirts to all Watchtower functions and males must dress in professional, business attire and keep hair short with no beards, although facial mustaches are allowed. Moderate Control of Drink, Dress and Hairstyles – While there is no command against the eating of certain foods, nor is there any requirement that regulates the amount of food or drink Mormons can have, the LDS Church has a “Word of Wisdom” law binding upon all members.  This law condemns the consumption of alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and tea containing caffeine.  Standards of dress also apply to members during church functions. Females must wear dresses or skirts and males must dress appropriately with short hair cuts and business attire clothing.  Those in service functions (i.e., LDS missionaries and temple workers) must also be clean shaven with no facial hair. Low Control of Food, Drink, Dress, Hairstyles – The Old Testament held dietary restrictions for the Jewish nation, but under the New Covenant, these restrictions were eliminated (Acts 11; 1 Cor. 8:8; Col. 2:16; Rom. 14:2-6).  Even the consumption of alcohol is not condemned as long as it is done in moderation (1 Tim. 5:23; Eph. 5:18). Dress and hairstyles are not defined except in keeping with modesty (1 Tim. 2:9) and the culturally accepted norm (1 Cor. 11:4-16).

Supervision and Reporting

High Level of Supervision and Reporting – Jehovah’s Witness “elders” control to a moderate degree the personal lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses as they enforce organizational rules and policies and periodically review the personal records of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses under their care.  Members are expected to confess past and present “sins” (as defined by the organization) to the elders and to comply with whatever spiritual correction the elders decide.  Since Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to spy on one another, any member who refuses to divulge deviant behavior to the “elders” may be turned in by his fellow associates. High Level of Supervision and Reporting – Mormon “bishops” control to a moderate degree the personal lives of Mormons under their care.  During periodic “interviews” with the presiding bishop, individual Mormons are asked personal questions and expected to confess past or present “sins” (as defined by the LDS Church).  Compliance with all the laws and ordinances of the LDS Church as well as any correction given is mandatory to maintain good standing with the LDS Church. Low Level of Supervision and Reporting – The “shepherding” role the Bible assigns to “elders” and “bishops” is one of protecting the congregation from false teaching and exercising “oversight.” They are instructed to lead by example and not to “lord” people under their care, nor use their position for personal “gain.” (1 Peter 5:1-5).  Except in the case of confronting blatant sin where an unrepentant Christian who has already been approached privately by fellow Christians is in need of corporate correction (Matt 18:15-20), nowhere are spiritual leaders instructed to “interview” or delve into the personal lives of individuals under their care in an attempt to coerce forced confessions.  While individual Christians are encouraged to “confess” sins to one another for personal accountability, Scripture does not specify that this “confession” is to be made to leaders, unless the sin resulted in sickness in which “elders” are called in to “anoint with oil” the repentant sinner and to “pray” for healing (James 5:14-16).

Information Control – Cults teach that the Bible is an insufficient guide in itself for determining spiritual truth. Group leadership and literature become the supreme source for interpreting Scripture and guiding the beliefs and actions of members.  Information is withheld or presented in a distorted manner and access to information from non-cult sources or sources critical of the group are downplayed and discouraged.

Control Element

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Mormons

Biblical Teaching

The Bible is Insufficient, Cult Leaders Define “Truth” for Members

True – They teach that the Bible is an accurate guide for spiritual truth, but that one needs Watchtower literature to properly interpret it. Thus, they believe that people cannot come to the knowledge of “the Truth” just by reading the Bible alone. True – They teach the Bible has been corrupted and that “plain and precious” things have been removed from it.  They teach people need their other “Scripture” books (i.e., Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) as well as the teachings of living Mormon “Prophets” for complete understanding of spiritual truth. False – The Bible claims to be a complete guide in itself (2 Tim. 3:16; 1 John 2:27; 2 Pet. 1:3). Jesus promised to preserve His Word so that no teaching in the Bible would be lost or corrupted (Matt. 24:35; Isa 40:8). Manuscript evidence proves this true as the Bible is the best preserved ancient book available today.

Information Withheld or Distorted

True – Much has been written to document the Watchtower’s misrepresentation of early church history and Protestant and Catholic sources in their Should You Believe in the Trinity? brochure.  Not only do they distort information to suit their purposes, they withhold and/or distort details in their organization’s history to cover-up significant errors they have made throughout their history. True – Attempts to gain public acceptance as “another denomination” of Christianity has resulted in Mormonism withholding “deeper doctrines” from potential converts and the public.  Doctrines that clearly delineate the unchristian nature of this religion (i.e., God being an “exalted man,” man becoming “gods,” Jesus being the spirit-brother of Lucifer, blood atonement, etc) are carefully cloaked in Christian terminology or avoided altogether until the prospective convert has committed to the religion. False – The Bible never condones distorting or withholding information about the Christian faith that would change an outsider’s perspective of the faith.  God is a God of Truth (Titus 1:2), and Jesus taught all things openly and said nothing in secret (John 18:20).

Critical Sources and Non-Cult Sources are Downplayed

True –Jehovah’s Witnesses are told to avoid all contact with people who leave the Watchtower. All literature critical of the organization is strictly forbidden.  They are warned against surfing the Internet and listening to religious broadcasting. Scholastic sources of information take a secondary role to statements published by the Watchtower.  For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses accept the Watchtower’s date for the Fall of Jerusalem (607 B.C.), even though all secular historians place the fall of Jerusalem at 587 B.C.  The change in date is given to uphold the Watchtower’s faulty chronology for Christ’s alleged “presence” in 1914 A.D. True – Mormons are discouraged from reading literature critical of the LDS religion and having contact with people who leave.  Additional books of LDS “Scripture” and statements from LDS Prophets and other leaders take precedence over information given by outside sources.  For example, against utter lack of support from reputable archaeologists and clear DNA evidence to the contrary, Mormons blindly accept the LDS claim that the Book of Mormon documents the ancient history of native American Indians. False – While scholastic research is the enemy of the claims of cults, it continues to be the friend of the Bible.  Numerous historical accounts in the Bible have been verified by archeological finds and literature contemporary to the Biblical era. Far from discouraging criticism, true Christianity invites a critical analysis of its claims.  The Bible commends people for comparing the apostle Paul’s words with Scripture previously accepted (Acts 17:11), and it encourages one to “examine everything carefully” (1 Thess. 5:21).

Thought Control – Cults foster a “we/they” mentality to the world, claiming that only inside the group can one find truth and ultimate salvation and that outside the group is “Satan’s world.”  “Loaded language” (“buzz words” or clichés unique to the group) are used to enforce programmed thought-processes.  Constructive criticism of the group is strictly prohibited and thought-stopping techniques are used to shut down critical, analytical thinking.

Control Element

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Mormons

Biblical Teaching

“We/They” Mentality, Claiming Spiritual Superiority to Those Outside the Cult

True – The Watchtower claims to be “the Truth” and the only source for salvation and eternal life available to people today.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that the organization is like “Noah’s Ark” and that outside is “Satan’s system” doomed to destruction at God’s final battle of Armageddon. True – Joseph Smith, Jr (founder of the LDS religion) claimed that God gave him a vision that “all” of the Christian churches were “wrong,” their “creeds” were “abominable” and their “professors” were all “corrupt.”  While Mormonism today claims to be “Christian,” it readily admits that it possesses spiritual truths (i.e., a “restored gospel”) that it claims is “missing” in regular Christian churches today. True/False – It is true that Jesus claimed to be “the Truth” and that no one could be saved apart from Him (John 14:6), but it is false that the Bible delegates this authority to a religious organization.  This authority is given to Jesus alone as the only “mediator” between God and Man (1 Tim. 2:5). Either Jesus possesses “the Truth” in Himself or He was a liar.  No person who made the claims Jesus did has ever risen from the dead.  His conquering of death proves that He is Who He claimed to be.

Loaded Language (Buzz Words) Used to Enforce Cult Theology

Jehovah’s Witness’ Buzz Words:

  • Apostate” = Someone who left the religion and is to be strictly avoided
  • Theocratic War Strategy” = Justified lying to protect the organization
  • Babylon” = All non-Jehovah’s Witness religions; they comprise Satan’s system of “false religion” doomed to future destruction.
Mormon Buzz Words:

  • Anti-Mormon” = Anyone or anything that is critical of any element of the Mormon religion
  • Faith promoting” = Positive discussion of Mormonism that forbids opposing critical analysis
  • Contention” = Critical discussion of errors in Mormon doctrine; is said to be “of the Devil.”
Christian Buzz Words:Non-existent.  Although Christianity uses a unique set of terms to communicate God’s truth (i.e., “sin,” “Grace,” “Justification”), these do not invoke an emotional response to enforce a religious control over followers.  Rather, these words express the beauty of the freedom that a personal relationship with Christ offers.

Thought-Stopping Techniques in Response to Criticism

True – Jehovah’s Witnesses are told to avoid “independent thinking” (thoughts that differ from the group).  They are accused of “pride” if they question any of the guidance given by the organization.  Since the organization claims to represent God, “doubt” and “criticism” of the group is equated to criticism of God.  When presented with criticism they cannot answer, Jehovah’s Witnesses are told to “wait” on Jehovah God for “new light” (clarification) to come through future Watchtower literature. True – Mormons are told that God will never allow the Prophet to lead the church astray, so unquestioning acceptance of everything the Prophet declares is required of the membership.  When presented with criticism they cannot answer, Mormons are told to recall the “feelings” they received when they “prayed” about the Book of Mormon and to “bear” their “testimony” by saying a set of memorized, “I know to be true…” statements affirming the LDS church doctrine and leadership. False – No thought-stopping techniques are ever used to prevent critical analysis of the Bible’s claims.  On the contrary, the Bible commends critical analysis as it encourages people to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21)

Emotional Control – Emotions are either stifled or used to further the group’s ideals. Excessive use of fear and guilt are employed as control mechanisms to manipulate behavior.  Members are made to feel that failures are never the fault of group leaders, but those of individual members.  Threats are made of physical and/or spiritual devastation occurring if one leaves the group.

Control Element

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Mormons

Biblical Freedom

Emotions Manipulated

True – One is seen as weak to show emotion during meetings and service activities.  Grieving over the loss of a loved-one or anything else is secondary to fulfilling organizational goals and requirements.  For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses are strongly discouraged from attending funerals if they are held in non-Jehovah’s Witness religious facilities. True – Potential converts are challenged to “pray” about the Book of Mormon to gain a “testimony” (good feeling) about the alleged truthfulness of the book.  If one does not receive the positive “testimony” feeling, one is told that one did not pray in sincerity with real intent.  This “testimony” feeling is essential to progressing within the LDS religion. False – Feelings are never controlled to further the purpose of an organization.  Truth is to be determined by the objective standard of critical comparison to Biblical doctrine (Isa. 8:20), not by relying on subjective feelings that are easily manipulated (Jer. 17:9).

Fear and Guilt used to Manipulate Behavior

True – They experience:

  • Guilt over not living up to all requirements, always told one must do better 
  • Guilt over feelings or thoughts of “doubt” 
  • Fear of “independent thinking,” being accused of a “prideful” critical spirit 
  • Fear of being “unworthy” to survive Armageddon  
  • Fear of “apostate” influence 
  • Fear of the outside world (i.e., “Satan’s system”) 
  • Fear of leaving and being “shunned” by members 
True – They experience:

  • Guilt over breaking LDS “Laws;” there is constant striving toward complete repentance and perfection  
  • Guilt over thoughts of doubt or being unable to gain a “testimony” about the Book of Mormon 
  • Fear of not properly “sustaining” LDS leadership or developing a critical spirit 
  • Fear of being “unworthy” for the Celestial kingdom 
  • Fear of “anti-Mormon” influence  
  • Fear of leaving and being regarded as a “son of perdition”
False –Because Christ has paid the full penalty for sin, so there is “no condemnation” for those who have placed trust in His sacrifice (Rom. 8:1).  Thus, God motivates Christians with His love, not fear: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.”— 1 John 4:18-19

Cult Failures Blamed on Followers

True – When 1975 failed to bring an end to the world as prophesied by the Watchtower Society, many were disillusioned as they had given up education and sold homes in preparation for the end.  Rather than accept responsibility for the failure, the Watchtower shifted the blame on members by claiming their over zealous actions caused wrong expectations about 1975. True – LDS Scripture D&C 84 documents Joseph Smith’s false prophecy concerning a temple that was to be built in Independence, MO.  When the Mormons were driven out of the area and were unable to build their temple, Joseph Smith received new revelation blaming the Saints for the failure. It claiming they had not been worthy enough to build it (D&C 105). False – God has never failed to keep any of the promises He has made.  Blame is the natural result of sinful man refusing to take responsibility for his actions.  The first incident of blame in the Bible occurred when Adam sinned by disobeying God’s command. He shifted the “blame” to Eve (his wife).  Eve in turn, blamed the Serpent (Satan).  God, being a righteous judge, forced all of them to suffer the consequences of their actions. These consequences (pain, death, sin nature) passed to all generations (Gen. 3).

Threatened if One Leaves

True – Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot imagine a fulfilled life outside of the Watchtower organization.  Since they are told that “truth” and “eternal life” are only provided through the Watchtower organization, they are taught that if they ever leave, they will be doomed to Satan’s control and everlasting death and annihilation at God’s future judgment. True – Mormonism is its own culture. Everything revolves around the LDS Church as it is viewed as the supreme source for direct revelation from God to man.  While Mormons believe salvation outside the group is attainable, obedience to all ordinances of the LDS “gospel” is required for ultimate salvation in the highest level. Those who leave the religion and reject its doctrines are viewed as “sons of perdition” whose end is damnation, along with Satan and his demons. False – Christianity is not a “religion.” It is a “relationship” with a Person, Jesus Himself! He claimed to be the only way to God (John 14:6).  Eternal life is based upon one’s personal repentance from sin and free acceptance of the blood sacrifice Jesus made to pay the penalty for human sin (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21).  Therefore, personal acceptance of this payment is essential for the sacrifice to be applied to one’s sin-account (1 John 1:9).  No amount of good works or religious activity can declare a person righteous in God’s eyes (Isa. 64:6). Only the shed blood of Christ is sufficient (Heb. 9:22). Those who turn to Jesus will be saved, while those who refuse His gift will be eternally judged (John 3:36; Matt. 35:46).  Once a person commits his life to Christ, this person becomes eternally sealed by spiritual adoption as a child of God, with no fear of ever being rejected and excluded from eternal life (John 1:12; 6:37-40; 10:28-29; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; 1 John 5:11-13).

As can be seen by the examples given above, both the Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon religions qualify to be categorized as “cults” because they both employ many of the mind-control elements used in cults.  Although the degree of cult-control varies in these two groups, we provide this analysis to demonstrate how religions that have a large following may still operate as “cults” in spite of the respectable image they present to the public. For more information on cults and how they operate, see the following links on our website:

bullets  WHAT IS A CULT? – Key Facts You Should Know About Cults and Mind Control

bullets  3 REASONS WHY PEOPLE LEAVE CULTS – What You Should Know When Talking To Them

bullets Does the Bible support the Jehovah’s Witness Practice of shunning family members who leave the Watchtower? (4jehovah.org)

bullets JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES ARE SPYING AND STALKING US! What Can We Do? (4jehovah.org)

bullets Why Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to study the Bible by itself without Watchtower literature (4jehovah.org)

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1. Technically, the Watchtower has no formal “membership.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses are counted by the number of followers who spend time in monthly door-to-door activity.  Thus, we use the term “members” loosely to refer to followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses who would consider themselves members of no other religious affiliation.

2. All Bible Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible

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