Is Mormonism a Cult? – A Mormon Responds to our “What is a Cult” Article

Mormon Temple


“As a person with over 50 years of loyal experience with the Mormon Church, but has left it in spirit, if not in name, I thought you might be interested in seeing my reaction to your webpage that gives the test on whether your religion is a cult or not. I shared the following with a Mormon email group I’m on:

TITLE: So is it a cult or isn’t it?

Evangelical Christians call Mormonism a cult. Mormons cry foul at the label. So is the Mormon Church a cult or not?

bullets WHAT IS A CULT?

I found this website that clearly believes so (like that’s hard to find). I took their definition of a cult and compared it to the Mormon Church.

First of all, let me go on record as saying that I think most evangelical Christian definitions of a cult are stacked to be sure they can exclude those denominations they don’t like. Yet, the behavior they describe in the definition is for the most part negative behavior, so whether it’s an accurate definition of a cult or not is rather secondary to the fact that any religion that conforms to the behavior described is one to be leery of.

So here is this website’s definition, given as a test to see if your religion is a cult, and how the LDS Church stacks up. My comments are in [brackets].

MILIEU CONTROL: Control of internal and external information, isolation from society, non-members and ex-members are considered unspiritual and even Satanic. [This is obviously a Mormon tactic.]

* Is your group secretive to outsiders about its inner workings, teachings, activities or beliefs?

[Duh! The temple is designed this way. The Church Handbook is a carefully guarded secret. No one knows what goes on when General Authorities meet together and make decisions–or even stake presidencies and bishoprics for that matter. Many historical documents are hidden away under lock and key.]

* Does your group withhold information from new converts?

[Duh! They don’t even hear that there was once a ban on the priesthood for Blacks. They don’t hear about the “we can become gods” thing. They have no clue what kind of micromanagement will happen in their lives once they become baptized. This plus all the information generally the church withholds from its members.]

* Is communication within, into and out of your group controlled or censored in any manner?


* Do you see less and less of your family and friends who do not belong to your group or who do not subscribe to your group’s belief system

[Clearly this is a phenomenon of the church, although I don’t think it’s officially intended.]

MYSTICAL MANIPULATION: Leaders claim to be the agents “chosen” by God to carry out the “mystical imperative” (group purpose), the pursuit of which must supersede all other needs.

[Duh! This defines what the Mormon Church is.]

* Does your group have a totalitarian structure: a strict, top-down centralized control?

[Duh! Do I have to elaborate?]

* Does your group or belief system think they have (or are) the only or highest “truth,” or have the solution for the world’s problems?

[Duh! They announce it over the General Conference pulpit.]

* Do members of your group feel specially chosen, superior, exclusive or elite?

[Duh! It’s the Mormon modus operandi.]

* Does your group use frequent public testimonials or confessions that reinforce the group’s mission or agenda?

[Of course. It’s the foundation of the Mormon Church. But I’m not sure why I should consider this negative behavior. I think it’s a perfectly fine thing for people to witness to each other what they believe. The only negative aspect of it, in my opinion, is how the church tries to give the impression that Mormons are the only ones who can testify to their beliefs.]

* Do members seek approval or get permission from group leader(s) for personal life choices?

[Duh! They’re told to seek counsel from leaders.]

* Do you feel pressured to give a portion of your income to the group, or spend money on courses, books or special projects?

[One word: tithing.]

* Are the group’s financial needs more important than your own economic well-being?

[When a bishop will say it’s better to pay tithing, then get assistance from the church welfare program, than to not pay tithing so you can fulfill your financial obligations–and I’ve heard that multiple times–you have to concede that this is true.]

* Do you put-off or ignore your personal needs in order to meet the needs of the group?

[We know this happens. I’m not sure why this is necessarily negative. It’s called sacrificing for a greater good. Of course, more personal choice in what to sacrifice and what to sacrifice FOR might be considered desirable.]

* Do you place your group’s mission or agenda above your own goals and ideals? Do group interests come before your own interests?

[See above.]

DEMAND FOR PURITY: The experiential world is sharply divided into two categories—good and evil as defined by the group. The control devices of guilt and shame are employed to bring the subject into strict conformity to the standards and ideals of the group.

[Of course the Mormon Church does this. But I don’t see this as a characteristic of a cult alone. This defines religion generally. People like the ones who put up this website excel at believing things like this. Mormons hardly have a corner on this type of arrogance.]

* Does your group equate purity and goodness to being in your group, and impurity or evil to those outside your group?

[Pretty much, although again, so do a bunch of other Christian denominations.]

* Do you find yourself thinking in a we-they, us-versus-them mind set?

[Constantly–and so do other mainstream churches.]

* Does your group/system have a clear outside enemy?

[You betcha! Lots of them in fact. But so do other mainstream churches.]

* Does your group discriminate against anyone regarding race or gender?

[Do I need to comment on this? Think Blacks and females.]

* Do you feel pressure to attend and participate in group meetings, events, lectures and seminars? Do you feel guilty if you don’t attend?


THE CULT OF CONFESSION: Forced confession of sin (as defined by the group) becomes a means of exploiting, rather than consoling the individual.

[We have the personal experiences of friends among us to know this is true.]

* Does your group have a system of punishment and reward for behavior?


* Does your group publicly humiliate or criticize members?

[This I question. Any public humiliation I think is inadvertent–usually. There are certain high profile cases where public criticism was intended, I believe. But for the most part, I’m willing to give the Mormon Church a pass on this one, because they do try to keep their discipline private.]

* Does your group criticize, shun, abandon or demean individuals who leave the group?

[Duh! I have personal experience with this.]

THE SACRED SCIENCE: Group doctrine is considered the ultimate “Truth” beyond any doubt or criticism.

[I’m surprised the website includes this. Doesn’t this pretty much define all Christian denominations? My experience with other types of Christians told me that they are as dogmatic and intolerant about their truths as Mormons are about theirs. Mormonism definitely fits this bullet point, but I think the website is shooting itself in the foot including it as part of the definition of a cult.]

* Are your leader’s ideas or belief system considered beyond reproach or sacred?

[This variation on the previous point is definitely applicable to Mormons more than normal Christian denominations–Catholic Church excluded, I suppose.]

* Do you follow a particular individual or belief system that requires unquestioning obedience and loyalty?

[Duh!–if you pluralize individuals.]

* Does your group discourage doubts, criticism or ideas that differ from the belief system of the group?


* Do you tend to rationalize whatever the group does even when it goes against your sense of right and wrong?

[Absolutely. I did it for 50 years. Thank God I had the sense to quit and be true to my conscience.]

* Are doubts viewed as a lack of faith, dedication, commitment or disloyalty?


* Have “your thoughts” become “the enemy?”

[What a vivid description of a Mormon! But again, I think it applies to other mainstream Christian denominations as well.]

LOADING THE LANGUAGE: Cults develop language terms unique to the group and only understood by those inside the group. Pseudo-Christian cults use Christian terminology with a twisted meaning.

[I don’t agree with including this in the definition of a cult. You could say the same thing about doctors or lawyers or scientists. All subgroups have their own specialized vocabulary. Calling the terminology “twisted” is just sensational propaganda.]

* Does your group have its own unique words, clichés, slogans, chants, prayers and doctrinal phrases that reinforce the group viewpoint?

[Obviously the Mormon Church does, but as I said above, this characteristic has no place in the definition of a cult.]

DOCTRINE OVER PERSON: A member’s character and identity is reshaped – not in accordance with the person’s unique gifts and abilities – but to comply within the rigid contours of the uniform doctrinal mold.

[Yes, the Mormon Church does this.]

* Do you feel the need to adjust your “thinking” in accordance with the group’s standard answers?


* Do you often find yourself doing more things in the group or because of group peer pressure that you would not have done on your own?

[I think this is fair to say about Mormons.]

* Do you often feel exhausted from lengthy group activities, meetings and projects?

[Isn’t this a Mormon’s default state?]

DISPENSING OF EXISTENCE: An atmosphere where non-members or ex-members are considered worldly, unspiritual and Satanic, whose chief goal is to “persecute” those remaining in the group—the fount of all “existence” and salvation.

[This is true about Mormons, but didn’t we already cover this in a previous bullet point? This is redundant.]

* Do you feel the need to “save” or convert others to your group?

[Duh! That’s a Mormon’s primary motivation for making friends outside the church.]

* Does the prospect of leaving your group seem scary, difficult?


* Have you been told something bad might happen if you leave?


* Do you feel the need to leave in secret?

[I haven’t told my family yet, and it’s been over a year.]

* Group paranoia: Does your group obsessively think other groups or people with different beliefs are out to get them?

[Duh! But in the case of Mormons, I don’t think it’s paranoia–cf. Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy, or even this website.]


[This part seems to apply more to people who are contemplating leaving the church than to members themselves.]

* Have difficulty trusting others and forming new friendships and intimate relationships

[This doesn’t seem to define Mormons. They usually seem too trusting.]

* Have low self-esteem, poor self-image or loss of identity

[THAT defines many Mormons.]

* Have difficulty making simple decisions and choices

[No difficult at all. Mormons just do what the church says to do.]

* Feel like you are just now growing up, becoming a mature adult

[Mormons do NOT do that–unless they are leaving the church!]

* Suppress emotions or have difficulty expressing them properly

[Suppressing emotions–yep! Difficulty expressing emotions–I don’t think that’s the problem. I think the problem is that the emotions Mormons feel are often prescribed, not sincere. Often Mormons feel emotions they’re told to feel, or at least told how to interpret the meaning of the emotions they do feel.]

* Often feel depressed, anxious and nervous

[For many Mormons, yes.]

* Feel isolated, lonely, guilty, cynical

[For those Mormons that start questioning their faith, yes.]

* Have short-term memory difficulties

[I’ve never heard of this one.]

* Feel you have nothing to believe in

[This is a challenge for those leaving the church. But wouldn’t this be true of any situation where someone leaves behind a belief system they lived by for years? I don’t think this is confined to cults.]

* Often feel anger and rage toward the group

[Oh yeah! Again, for those leaving.]

* Have nightmares or unpleasant dreams

[This hasn’t happened to me. I suppose it could.]

* Find it difficult or impossible to stop mental or other group ritualistic practices

[A running joke among Mormons who leave the church is: Do you still have your garments in the drawer? If you got rid of them, did you first destroy the markings on them? Almost all of them say yes to one or the other of these questions. Many former Mormons will not reveal their “new name” or the signs and tokens of the endowment, even if they think the whole temple thing is a joke.]

Well, that’s all folks. That’s the test to see if your religion is a cult. Again, I think the definition is heavily stacked in favor of being able to exclude Mormonism and other unpopular religions from mainstream Christianity. Some of the entries in the definition have no business being there–they apply to many other types of groups besides cults, or are no kind of negative behavior at all. Some of them apply to evangelical Christians as much as to Mormons, and the website is foolish to include them in the definition.

But for the most part, the definition clearly describes negative behavior, and the Mormon Church matches them almost 100%. By the definition of this website, the Mormon Church is undeniably a cult. The only question is, how much stock do you put into this particular definition?”



Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your responses to this cult quiz posted on our website—especially in light of the fact that this quiz was NOT developed by our ministry or any “Christian” group.  Rather, it was developed from the work of Dr. Robert Jay Lifton of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who wrote the book: Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism–A Study of the ‘Brainwashin’ in China. With a little modification by our ministry to the original quiz, it has been used by SECULAR psychiatrist and sociologists to educate ex-members of cults like the Moones, The Way International, Scientology, etc.  For your studies, you may find the following books of interest. Two of them are from non-Christian, secular sociologists, so you will be able to see that they have no reason to target the Mormon Church and most do not even mention Mormonism in their books:



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