55: Cult Claims and the Media

This week’s Mormon Matters episode discusses two stories from the past week: (1) The dust-up over and media slam-down of remarks made by Texas mega-church pastor and Governor Rick Perry supporter Robert Jeffress that Mormonism is a cult—does this episode represent a real shift in the tenor of the “Mormon Moment”?; and (2) the news that the LDS Church has recently sent out a survey that aims to understand how its members interact with today’s social media and view particular blogs, bloggers, and reporters—including two of this episode’s panel members, Joanna Brooks and McKay Coppins. The episode’s third panelist, Morris Thurston, is one of those who was surveyed. The result of this coming together is a dynamic conversation full of passion (don’t let Joanna Brooks hear you think you’re in any way playing fair when you speak of Mormonism as a cult!) and terrific insights into current national discussion of Mormonism as well as some of the things the LDS Church might be hoping to learn from their surveys.

Please listen and join in the discussion in the comments section!

Comments

comments

54 comments for “55: Cult Claims and the Media

  1. October 12, 2011 at 4:04 am

    I have been a member all my life and still am. However, I absolutely refuse to defend the claim that the church in its current form is not a cult. Despite all that it says that it is not a cult, its own words, teachings and actions for the past 20+ years has convinced me otherwise. I elaborate on my experiences here: http://mormonstruthrestored.blogspot.com/2011/09/corporate-mormon-church-is-cult.html

    • Anonymous
      October 13, 2011 at 7:50 pm

      I plan on using the “You did get the memo that we’re not a cult, right?” When I get the opportunity to denounce certain cultural behavior that I feel is repressing against those that are either ex-Mormon or non-Mormon or even just plain ole different type of Mormon than they perceive one should be.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 13, 2011 at 10:04 pm

      Your list of cult characteristics is so broad and your “evidences” for Mormon matches to it seem to me to be worst possible spins (and certainly not matching my own experiences as an active member and careful church watcher for these same past twenty-plus years) that I’m not finding your arguments persuasive. From your blog heading, you obviously have had an experience that has led you to take on a mission to correct directions the LDS Church has gone in. With that agenda, how free from bias are you even attempting to be as you articulated the matches in your checklist?

      This discussion was prompted by Pastor Jeffress’s remarks. Do you find his reasoning similar to yours? For instance, does the message of the “original Book of Mormon” that your blog is advocating a return to agree with the theological tenets he uses in his reasoning about why Mormonism is a cult? 

      • October 17, 2011 at 12:02 am

        Dan,
        Taking off the table the “evidences for Mormon matches to the list” as you’ve stated, don’t you think that the list is a pretty good litmus test for considering whether a group is in fact a cult?  Any single point from the list may not be sufficient in and of itself, but taken as a whole, it seems like a pretty good list to me.  Dave P. didn’t create the list.  People who know and understand cults prepared it.  Why is it too broad?

        Jonah

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          October 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm

          Hi Jonah,

          Sorry. It’s impossible for me to take off the table the lack of matches between the list and Dave’s claims. As I look over the list (and I’ve checked the website of ICSA he grabbed it from), not a single thing on it screams or even mildly implies Mormonism to me. And I’d guess it wouldn’t occur to many of those in that organization’s leadership either. Clearly the focus there is where it typically is in academia (though this group isn’t really academic in focus), which is on small personality- or ritual-driven groups that tend to isolate, strongly indoctrinate, use extreme techniques to create dependence on the group, etc. 

          The entire “Mormonism is a cult” line of thought flies in the face of academic approaches, in which Mormonism, when treated at all as something other than a full-fledged “religion,” might sometimes still get defined in the “new religious movements” camp. The history of this nomenclature is that it emerged in the 80s as the “religion, denomination, sect, cult” classification range that had been the dominant way to categorize started to show its limitations. And no one that I am aware of was considering Mormonism as a “cult” there/then–it’s too large and way too loose for that. When Dave and Jeffress and others say what they say, they are playing politics plain and simple, knowing that “cult” is not a value-neutral term the way academics would view it, knowing that people don’t have a sense of the history of careful academic discussion and how absolutely out of bounds it would be to apply that label to Mormonism, so they trot it out solely to try to score points for their agenda–at best imagining an “ends justify the means” rationalization for their cheating. Look at Dave’s page. His agenda is very clear: the LDS Church has fallen and he’s been called to set it right. I’m not sure how much he thinks he might be the only one called to this, but it is transparently obvious to me that everything in his analysis of “Mormonism is a cult” is geared toward persuading people toward opening a space in their thinking that he and his answers might step in and fill. If he does see himself as the “one” person called to restore the church to its correct course, what might people call Dave’s group should he get some real traction toward his goals?

          • October 17, 2011 at 5:42 pm

            I agree that the list does not imply Mormonism. I agree and tried to take that discussion off the table so we could discuss the definition of the word cult, independent of how that definition would or would not apply to Mormonism. So if the list is wrong, what is a good definition, a good list Do we even care to define it or should we just throw the word away? On my phone so you may see typos.

          • Dan Wotherspoon
            October 17, 2011 at 9:04 pm

            I don’t have the time today to really look around for solid attempts to differentiate cults from sects, etc., (and I don’t really hate the ICSA list, just David’s outlandish stretches–boring meetings as a deliberate attempt at mind control?!) but I’d say that first and foremost the list would likely have to include things such as a pretty small size (I’m thinking the ICSA authors might have simply assumed that), far more deliberate isolation and efforts to really control who members associate with than Mormon worries about not being “in the world,” real attempts to limit the messages heard along with more intrusive/overpowering message-delivery techniques, etc. And like others in this discussion have said, what might be considered a cult in its origins can grow into sects/movements/etc that become increasingly less cult-like (though I don’t really think “cult” ever would have been accurately applied to Mormonism). So I’m not for throwing out the word, simply being fair with it and what using it entails. 

          • October 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm

            It may make sense to define “cult” in a way that excludes Mormonism and it would make sense to include a list of good things that “cults don’t do.”  For example, do cults feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and make the world a better place?  Probably not.  Do cults help us become better citizens and better members of our community?  Probably not.  Do cults encourage higher education? Do cults help us to show more love, compassion and understanding?  Probably not (And we need to do a much better job of this). Do cults encourage us to obey the laws of the land and to enlist to serve and defend our country when our country needs us? Probably not. and much more.

            Mormonism does a lot of good things that cults can’t and won’t do. By focusing on this, it would be very easy to show that Mormonism is not a cult.

    • October 25, 2011 at 5:04 am

      Dave, I have to agree with Dan. So many of the things you listed and the Mormon equivalents you came up with are such a stretch of reality or a twisted perspective that they do indeed seem the worst possible spins. I’m surprised that you claim lifelong membership so openly and readily, as it certainly doesn’t seem like you want to have much association with the LDS Church.

  2. Jen White
    October 12, 2011 at 6:19 am

    I really want to be on a podcast with Joanna Brooks! She is just so cool.

  3. Jacob M
    October 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Another great podcast, ladies and gents! Really good thoughts about the whole cult thing. I will say that Joanna’s experience in Orange County, CA, had changed by the time I went to high school a decade later, even if on occasion we had a pamphlet passed out to us as we were going to school from seminary. I also don’t think we will ever be accepted as part of the Christian community by the Christian community, but hopefully all this cult nonsense will finally die out. A multi million member “cult” should strike rational people as being asinine!

  4. Gail F. Bartholomew
    October 12, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Morris Thurston,

    I would really like to thank you for the peace you wrote on the truth about the consequences.  I am curious about your statement here on this pod cast distancing Church leadership from the lies or misrepresentations told during prop 8.   When I read the press release by the church “The Divine Institution of Marriage”  See almost all of the six consequences represented there, and I am not sure how this could have been put out with out the knowledge of the Brethren.  Also, though I am would be unable to locate them now during prop 8 I saw talks by members of the 12 on line that clearly referenced things form the six consequences.  Lastly, since prop 8 Elder Oaks has spoken several places one being BYU Idaho stating that if gay marriage becomes legal religions will be forced to preform them in their halls. Which is not directly one of the six consequences, but given the first amendment and the fact that every time sex marriage has been legalized in the world it has included very strict religious protections seems to be based on clear falsehood .    I am not trying to be argumentative here I really would like to understand why you believe that these falsehoods are not coming from church leadership.

    • October 13, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      Gail:

      Thanks for your comment about my Commentary on the Six Consequences. At the time I wrote the Commentary I verified that the Six Consequences handout had been written by a local LDS campaign leader for Prop 8 who was not a lawyer. I hoped (perhaps naively) that the Commentary would prompt an official correction by the Church and a public withdrawal of the Six Consequences memo. In fact, I heard through the grapevine that in some subsequent meetings in California a general authority told campaign leaders not to use that handout because “we can’t have lawyers arguing with each other.” There was no sense that the campaign had erred in promulgating the handout in the first place, merely that it would be expedient not to use it in the future. Unfortunately, while many wards did stop using it, the message didn’t filter down to all of them. I heard from people who said the Six Consequences memo was being passed out in their wards right up to the day of the election.

      You mentioned the Church’s “Divine Institution of Marriage” (“DIM”) statement, which came out a couple of weeks after my Commentary. I would agree that DIM was misleading, did not in any way apologize for the Six Consequences (“6C”) memo, and served primarily to leave the impression with most readers that the Church stood by the 6C. However, if you read it closely, there are subtle differences. The most important is that DIM didn’t say that the results it envisioned would occur “as a consequence” of not passing Prop 8 in California.

      Other differences between 6C and DIM include the following:

      1. 6C implied that if Prop 8 were defeated, there was a real possibility that churches would lose their tax exempt status. DIM said “advocates of same-sex marriage are suggesting that tax exemptions and benefits be withdrawn from any religious organization that does not embrace same-sex unions.” Of course, one can find almost anything being advocated by someone, so that was not technically a falsehood, though other references in connection with this statement were certainly misleading.

      2. 6C stated that “advocates and government officials in certain states already are challenging the long-held right of religious adoption agencies to follow their religious beliefs and only place children in homes with both a mother and father.” Again, this is a partial truth, but not the whole truth. The DIM doesn’t mention that these challenges pertained to adoption agencies that accepted public funds and, therefore, were serving as an arm of the government, something that does not describe LDS Social Services. It also doesn’t point out that California already has laws in place that prohibit discrimination by state-supported adoption agencies and the passage of Prop 8 has had no effect on those laws.

      3. DIM said that “laws guaranteeing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples be made uniform across the EU.” Of course, that was not a consequence of Prop 8, which only pertained to California, a state that already had laws guaranteeing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples. But DIM didn’t say it this was a consequence of Prop 8, so again it managed to avoid telling a lie.

      There were other statements made by DIM, but I won’t take up space here to go through them all. Bottom line, however, I agree that DIM was misleading and, being published during the heat of the Prop 8 campaign, was intended to be misleading. But for the most part, it managed to avoid outright falsehoods. And, of, since my Commentary was published before DIM, it wasn’t intended to refute it.

      • Gail F. Bartholomew
        October 14, 2011 at 9:48 am

        Brother Thurston,

        Thank you for your candid reply.  If I understand you it sounds like you are saying that the church did intentionally mislead the members, but since what they said was not technically untrue you are giving them the benefit of the doubt and  say the leadership are not the ones that used the lies in the 6C.  Is that what I am hearing you say?

        • Morris Thurston
          October 16, 2011 at 7:48 pm

          I don’t mean to sound like a lawyer, but I suppose I can’t help it. It is difficult to respond when you use the term
          “intentionally mislead” together with “the Church.” The
          Church is made up of individuals and I’m in no position to say whether any particular individual intentionally misled, negligently misled, or was merely
          publishing something he or she believed was true.

          Some of the Church leaders who were involved in
          Prop 8 are lawyers and very good ones, at that. Did they know about the 6C before
          it was distributed? If not, what did they tell the troops about the 6C when
          they did become aware of it? Did they tell the whole truth? Did they believe
          they had a responsibility to tell “the whole truth?” Did the ends, in their
          view, justify the means? Did they believe that political campaigns are
          inherently messy and that you can’t be completely honest and also be successful?
          I can’t answer these questions because I can’t look into their minds. You may
          want to look at the transcript of a talk given by Elder Oaks at a fireside at
          BYU in 1993 called “Gospel
          Teachings About Lying,” to see what his views are on that subject.

          • Gail F. Bartholomew
            October 18, 2011 at 10:30 pm

            Brother Thurston,

            Thanks again for your response.  I do not mind that you sound like a lawyer.    That is one of the reasons I am asking for your opinion.  I hope I am not coming across as petulant.  I really want to understand your point of view.  
            Your response does make some since and the reference to the Oaks talk seems to give me some insight into how he might justify the deception, being one of those very good lawyers you mention, unfortunately this possible insight makes me a little sick to my stomach.  To think that Elder Oaks some how felt no obligation to disclose that all the legal arguments used to support prop 8 were based on faultshoods, event though the church and he eluded to these arguments implying that the church agreed with them.  
            I am a bit confused about how your statement “Bottom line, however, I agree that DIM was misleading and, being published during the heat of the Prop 8 campaign, was intended to be misleading. But for the most part, it managed to avoid outright falsehoods.” I am not sure how this is congruent with your second response.  
            I must say I also wonder what “edited by moderator” means. How did what I read differ your your answer to my questions? Sorry this question is rhetorical given that is part of the result of monitor editing.

          • Morris Thurston
            October 19, 2011 at 12:02 am

            The “edited by moderator” is a red herring. I just asked Dan to fix a formatting issue. (When I pasted text in from Word it didn’t format paragraph breaks as I wanted it to.) The words are all the same.

            I see your confusion between my original post and my response with respect to the quoted sentence. I probably should not have have added the clause, “was intended to be misleading,” since I don’t know who wrote the piece, what knowledge they had at the time it was written, or what their subjective intent was. I do believe, however, that it was misleading when applied to a Prop 8 analysis, and I think it is clear from the surrounding circumstances that the objective of the piece was to influence the membership’s feelings toward Prop 8.  

          • Dan Wotherspoon
            October 19, 2011 at 4:31 am

            Just did it again! (Eliminating the extra spaces.) 🙂

          • Gail F. Bartholomew
            October 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm

            Dan thanks I should have more faith than that in you.  Once again thanks for doing this pod cast.  You are very talented at getting the well qualified people on the panel.  The cast is always informative and thought provoking.  

          • Gail F. Bartholomew
            October 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm

            Brother Morris,

            Thank you for you patience and willingness to answer my questions.  Obviously this was and still is a very emotional issue for me.  It is one that effects my family in a personal way.  Please understand that I respect your knowledge and opinion.  Given the degree of latitude you seem to give the brethren on this I am questioning whether I am holding them too high a standard.  
            I would agree that the church is made up of individuals.  Many of which are people like you and me are just doing a job.  I would also agree that we have no way of knowing who wrote the DIM.  I must admit upon first reading and second and third I attributed it directly to the brethren as a document definitively explaining even justifying the Churches involvement in prop 8.  Now on reflection given the lack of signatures it is likely this was some staff writer in the PR department. 
            Even if is the case please help me see why you do not see it as intentionally misleading for the brethren to never correct this and to continue forward as if it were the gospel truth.  Particularly this is how the majority of active members view anything coming from the church. Does it not seem logical and reasonable to assume that the brethren would understand without correction of the DIM that most members reading it would believe the 6C were basically scripture?  How do you see this as not intentionally misleading on the part of the brethren? 

          • Morris Thurston
            October 20, 2011 at 4:23 am

            The column is getting very narrow, which means it is probably time to bring this thread to an end. I’m not sure there is much more we can accomplish. It seems you want me to directly criticize the brethren, but I’m not going to do it for a several reasons.

            First, I dislike personal attacks. When I first published my Commentary I received a number of such attacks and I didn’t appreciate it. I don’t mind people setting forth their arguments on a position and I’ll set forth mine. The reader can decide which argument is most persuasive, but when people started accusing me of being a fake Mormon or of serving as the devil’s tool, it was hurtful. So I don’t intend to personally attack the brethren. I believe they are good men who are trying to do the best they can to lead the Church. I don’t agree with their views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, but I believe they honestly hold them. It is a reflection of the views of most people of their generation. We’ve seen though the ages, all the way back to the Old Testament, that prophets tend to be a product of their times. In my view, that doesn’t disqualify them from being prophets, since I’ve never believed prophets (or apostles) are infallible. I believe this is true of Old Testament prophets, New Testament apostles and modern-day general authorities. On the other hand, I’ve never believed in blindly accepting everything a prophet or apostle says, for the same reason. I think each of us is entitled to our own revelation to govern our lives and beliefs.

            Second, there are always two sides to any question. If some of the general authorities who are lawyers were to respond to your questions they would certainly have arguments to make. You’ve seen some of their arguments in talks they have given. You can also read the legal briefs that have been filed by the Church’s law firm in the District Court case challenging Prop 8. Elder Oaks has been particularly active in speaking on this subject. It has been my impression from his recent talks that he has a re-directed his primary concern away from gay rights and toward what he views as a threat to the freedom of religion. You can read his talks and come to your own conclusion as to the seriousness of his concerns. I’ll merely note that he is representing a world-wide church and some of the things that might be seen as a threat to religious freedoms in certain foreign nations would not, in my view, constitute a serious threat to those freedoms in our country, with its strong constitutional protection of religion. But you understand, I’m sure, that when you base your argument on what might conceivably happen in the future, it is difficult to refute it since nobody can see into the future.

            (A brief aside here: We’ve seen this concern about what might come to pass surface time and time again. Usually what happens is that it turns out not to be such a big deal. Some Church leaders fought housing integration on the grounds that it might lead to racial intermarriage and guess what? It did, but do we really care today? Likewise the Church opposed the Equal Rights Amendment with the scary prospect that women might end up serving in combat units. The amendment was defeated, but guess what? Women serve in combat units today without the ERA and we aren’t that concerned. One of the arguments used to support Prop 8 was that same sex marriage would have to be taught in the schools if it was defeated. I disagreed, but Prop 8 triumphed and guess what? California passed a law requiring schools to teach positive messages about gay people. This particular law has been subject to some justified criticism, but the point is that in ten or twenty years we’ll have full equality of rights–including marriage rights–for gay people and guess what? Church members of that generation won’t care.)  

            Third, call me a cynic, but I believe that any political campaign is full of misleading and overreaching claims. Ideally I would like to think the Church is above engaging in these tactics, but that is probably an unrealistic wish. In my opinion the best thing the Church could do is stay completely away from political campaigns, even ones that they characterize as involving “moral issues,” but then I don’t run the Church. 

            I suspect you would like the brethren to issue an apology for the misleading statements that were made during the course of the Prop 8 campaign. I think we both know it’s not going to happen. It took 150 years for the Church to apologize for the Mountain Meadows massacre, we’ve never apologized (or even formally retracted) our stance on blacks and the priesthood, and we’ve never acknowledged that Brigham Young’s teachings on polygamy were too strident or that plural marriage is not a celestial principle. Most things that are contrary to common sense and the common understanding of morality just seem to fade away over time.

            I’ve enjoyed our interchange, Gail, and invite you to come to your own conclusions if any of my responses have been unsatisfactory.

          • Gail F. Bartholomew
            October 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm

            Thank you Brother Thurston.  I appreciated seeing your thoughts.  Thanks again for your patience on this thread.  I know this had nothing really to do with the pod cast.

  5. JustMe
    October 12, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Thank You for your voices -I am not through the entire podcast yet – but I am yelling at my screen, had to post — – While I don’t fully categorize the LDS Church is a “cult” – I think they do many things that are “cult-like” — This podcast is an excellent example of that — Joanna spent the first few minutes defending Mormonism – and the next 15-20 minutes discussing the type of “information control” most people would categorize as “cult-y”  — My MTC & Mission experience would also fall directly into the “cult-like” behavior – The secrecy surrounding the temple, and the temple ceremony by its-self again falls square in the neighborhood of what most Americans would see as “cult-ish” behavior — I have been online enough over the past few years exposing myself to all types of Mormon voices —

    One statement I have heard many times —  If the Church want’s people to stop calling them a cult, they should stop acting like a cult… 🙂

    thanks again for your voices ~!~

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 13, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      I didn’t hear Joanna focusing much at all on “information control” or describing church behaviors that might easily be viewed as cult-y. Are you being careful with your comment here? 

      How did the podcast conversation feel after you heard the whole thing–that is if you could stop yelling at the screen to keep going? 🙂  Did the section of the discussion on the survey lead you to think the LDS Church’s purpose in seeking feedback was in order for it to arm itself better to try to keep tight control of the social media and other conversations the way a cult would?

  6. Gail F. Bartholomew
    October 13, 2011 at 12:07 am

    Just me,

    I would agree that a very good argument can be made for the Church being a cult.  I also believe Joanna is correct when she says that evangelicals are not making these arguments.  I would disagree with her that they are just insulting us.  They are using it for same reasons that God Makers made that claim, which are not very good arguments.  The reason most evangelicals buy them is that the arguments that can be compelling that the LDS Church are a cult most can apply to evangelicals as well.

  7. October 13, 2011 at 4:28 am

    dont all religions really start out kind of like a cult.  people prolly that zoroastrianism was a cult at the time as well

  8. Paula
    October 13, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Another podcast “out of the park”.  Thank you so much for producing these.  It is a privilege to listen!
    And yes I donated =)

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 13, 2011 at 9:36 pm

      THANKS, Paula! Both your comment and support mean a lot!

  9. October 14, 2011 at 5:47 am

    OK, so I’m gonna leave this comment before listening to the podcast and then respond to myself once I’ve enjoyed the discussion. 😉  Here’s my concern: talking about whether or not “the Mormon church” is a cult strikes me as maybe not a very useful either/or framing (i.e., what if the CoJCoL-DS =/= a monoculture?).  My guess is most folks don’t view Catholicism as a cult, but it’s undeniable that there are real Catholic cults out there.  Ditto for the rest of Christianity and religions generally (I’m dialing this in from Asia, and as far as I can tell, there are plenty of Buddhist and Taoist cults, too).

    In other words, I’m ready to take any LDS participant here at their word that they don’t belong to a cult.  As much as I personally disliked the temple experience, I’m skeptical of the assertion that secret ritual is a priori evidence of cult activity.  Purely anecdotal, but I’ve got an Egyptian-born Brazilian client who’s a Mason and if this guy’s any clue to that scene, it ain’t a cult.  But then again, maybe it is for other Masons.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that my Mormon parents moved to Missouri during the ’70s for apparently/ostensibly religious-inspired reasons, as did many of the folks we went to church with in our local branch in the Ozarks, and there was definitely a culty vibe to our experience growing up Mormon.  I’ve since come to the realization/conclusion that maybe we were outliers (or that maybe a lot of this has to do with socioeconomics).    

    So, anyway, I’m gonna shut up now and listen to the podcast.                  

  10. October 14, 2011 at 10:46 am

    All apologies, but this is me listening and “live blogging” this episode from a Shanghai airport lounge…

    Bring on the fluff.  Sounds fun.

    OK, so scratch that, decidedly non-fluffy Morris Thurston is on the panel.

    Speaking of “speaking boldly” I liked Kristine Haglund’s recent contribution at BCC re setting aside umbrage long enough to acknowledge where Christian claims are coming from.

    Yeah, I got a chuckle out of McKay’s tweet re his mention in the survey… “uhm, thanks?”

    Just riffing on Joanna’s opening comments, I wonder how many Mormons appreciate the diversity of Evangelical thought?  Jeffress probably strikes a lot of EVs as an unfortunate example of how cringeworthy cracker culture warriors tend to suck up all the media attention.

    Agree with McKay about the less dismissive response from the media re Moism in this cycle.  By way of acknowledgement/reply, someone upstairs needs to get this memo to rank-and-file Mormons:  it’s time to drop the defensive crouch in comments on the interwebz.  

    Thurston provides a good example:  wherever residual post-Prop 8 triumphalism pops up in random Mormon commentary, it undercuts the current PR opportunity to leverage the new conventional wisdom that anti-Mormonism is non-PC.

    OK, so McKay agrees: Jeffress embodies a caricature of anti-Mormon bigotry that makes a certain baseline media defense of Mormonism that much easier.

    Color me crestfallen to learn that Joanna doesn’t worship Joseph Smith.  /snark

    Now Morris is going all Ken Burns with a historical overview of Mormon “moments”…

    McKay again.  He mentions he’s only been covering Mormon issues for a short time.  As an old-timer, I respect this kind of self-effacing aside from a young Mormon reporter and I’m finding it hard to dislike this guy.  Bummer.  As an angry ex-mormon, I was kinda hoping he would out himself as a kind of Mormon Monica Goodling media plant that I could rail against.  Looks like I’m gonna have to learn to live with the disappointment.

    Did Joanna just refer to a co-panelist as “Morrie”?  Live from LA’s Fairfax Avenue, it’s Mormon Matters…

    Memo to LDS Newsroom: Religion Dispatches is unabashed advocacy journalism.  The rest of us get that.  Try to keep up.

    Isn’t Bryan Fischer living proof that Gene England was right?  This tension doesn’t get resolved until Utah stops being – for all intents and purposes – a one-party GOP stronghold.  Or until Mormon candidates running on a national GOP ticket feel confident enough to bypass a forum like the Values Voter Summit.

    Now Joanna is moving into an area of “common ground” that I think needs to get discussed/established:  “exmormon” is a subset of “mormon” (i.e., in terms of the broader culture, talking about exmormon issues *is* talking about Mormonism, and nearly equally suspicious).  One of the funny things that happens whenever any of us write/talk/blog/bloviate about Mormonism to a non-Mormon audience (whatever our insider status might be):  we all get lumped together as weirdly Mormon (“ex” “faithful” or otherwise).  For what it’s worth, some of us exmos still wear our Mormonism unapologetically.  For what it’s worth.

    And Morrie extends by observing how EVs stubbornly refuse to recognize shared Mo/evangelical temporal/political aims or maybe just how their ignorance/majoritarian-nativist bent/Sunday sermons has inoculated them against electoral/demographic reality.

    McKay served his mission in Texas.  Interesting contrast to growing up in Boston.  One thing they’ll never be able to take away from us lefties is that Massachusetts elected a Mormon.  That’s how we roll.  Can Utah (or Texas) lay claim to similar broadmindedness in statewide politics?

    Joanna apparently served one of those little-known LDS high school interfaith missions to SoCal megachurches.  I thought the Okies lived further inland.  Then again, all I know about that part of the world is courtesy of Joan Didion and my own year in Pasadena.  Anyway, my guess is you’d have to head out to Bakersfield to experience the same trauma in this day and age.  And props to Morrie, who’s got my back on this point.

    That said, sorry Morrie, Richard Mouw’s piece reeked of credentialism.

    The theological vs. sociological “cult” nomer gets a nod.  Thurston echoes Haglund’s footnote that “We’re not Mormon, unless someone else is saying they’re Mormon, and then we are and they’re not.”  

    LDS double-speak.  It didn’t end with polygamy.

    Recent Mormon survey:  You’ve been selected at random.  Hmmm-Kay.  C’mon, you’re an opinion leader.  Deal with it.  Anyway, agreed: more surveys, please.  I’d love to see a survey pushed out to 100,000 members asking about “Ask a Mormon Girl” and “Mormon Stories” and the rest of you rabble-rousers.

    For the record, I invariably refer to Religion Dispatches for the official LDS line.  Newsweek?  Not so much.  But I can take a hint.  Time to subscribe.  Except I worry about the political coverage.  I mean, how tall is Jon Huntsman, really?
     
    Outliers “R” Us.  Good luck with that.  You’re not.

    More McKay credibility-building commentary:  “Did they really think such a survey wouldn’t be reported in the Trib?”

    I had an experience with Jana Riess.  She’s banned my people from her blog.  Come to think of it, I noticed that you’ve got “Bloggernacle” as a tag for this episode.  Anyone care to comment on why it is so many of us exmos find ourselves personae non gratae in these discussions?  Actually, no, scratch that, other than Flunking Sainthood and BCC, the ‘nacle (including RD) has been admirably open to open discussion.  Forget I tried to stir the pot.  More listening, less typing…

    Mormons capable of making distinctions.  Last word on the survey: I hope it’s what Joanna suspects it was.

    Or maybe not the last word.  I think what Morrie really wanted to say is that this was obviously a ploy by Michael Otterson to get himself included in a list of real journalists and bloggers. I mean, that thing Mike does in the Washington Post is called “blogging”? Who knew?

    If you’re gonna talk about a conversation with a GA, just name him.  I think it’s really counterproductive to the larger program of mainstreaming Mormonism to perpetuate the LDS nervous tic that derives drama from a nod to some unnamed inside-the-Kremlin source.  That said, agreed, it’s positive to process questions publicly.

    Rock on.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 14, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      Fun to have that live blogged! Thanks!

      On your final note about naming GAs, the key issue to me is trust. It’s the currency for both them–they must be seen as non-blabbers by their colleagues (especially those in the lifelong or “there until emeritus” callings)–and journalists or other conversation partners. Lose trust, lose access. So unless things are said that are clearly on the record, I think it’s more strategic to protect identities and simply have those who hear the stories have to trust that the journalist reporting on the conversation’s gist is being honest rather than the small gain that might come from the person being named and that conversation partner running risk of losing access–not only to them, but also to other leaders. Hard to learn and hard to be heard in return unless there is a level of trust that someone can be frank with you without it biting them in the butt. And even if you’re pointing out difficulties or asking uncomfortable questions, to be credible and worthy of their paying attention to what you’re saying, they must know that you have church’s best interests at heart.  My two cents on that, anyway…

      Thanks, again!
      Dan

  11. Tim
    October 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    For a Mormon Matters Podcast, this didn’t live up to my expectations for one reason:  there was no discussion about WHY people think Mormonism is a cult other than bigotry.  REALLY?!?

    I do not think Mormonism is a cult and even if I did I wouldn’t use that word in national, political discourse.  BUT there are some very real reasons why the cult perception persist and no one even touched on them.  That was particularly disappointing as all 4 of you hemmed and hawed over what a church survey could mean and if it might be any threat to you personally.

    Come on Joanna, you have to work yourself out of an anxiety attack that 15 old men (that you rarely agree with on anything) are going to kick you out of their club because your name was mentioned in a survey?  And the ONLY reason you can think of that people use the word “cult” is because of conservative, Evangelical bigotry?  All of you are usually much more self aware than that.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 14, 2011 at 11:25 pm

      Tim, 

      Lots of issues that could definitely have been explored that weren’t. My feeling (and I mentioned it briefly during the podcast) is that we’d covered the “why” question pretty thoroughly (not always focusing on the “cult” word) in our earlier podcast in June, http://mormonmatters.org/2011/06/14/37-why-are-mormons-seen-as-dangerous-by-some-evangelical-christians/. 

      Focus for this episode this week was about news in Mormon world, media discourse about it, etc.  And we treated the LDS survey in the same way: news and commentary. I didn’t hear or sense Joanna or any of the guests were close to anxiety attacks nor even mere hand-wringing about possibly getting kicked out of the Mormon club. Sure of what you heard?

      Tim, would it be fair to say your comments “are usually much more self aware than that”?  (Is that mean to say in reply? Intending it in fun. Always appreciate your joining in our conversations!)

      Dan

      • Tim
        October 16, 2011 at 11:57 pm

        Dan,

         I think episode 37 was excellent.  But the focus of that episode was largely about whether or not Mormonism can be described as “Christian” not whether or not it was a cult.  Perhaps I misunderstand your viewpoint, but I don’t think you agree with Jeffress that the word “cult” is synonymous with the word “non-Christian”.  The dangers of being non-Christian are far different than the dangers of being cultic.

        I’m quite confident I heard your participants express some anxiety and some hand-wringing about being mentioned in the survey, In addtion to McKay stating that it was creepy to be named in survey done by your own church and Joanna joking about the ongoing existence of the “Stregnthening the Members Committee” (whose very existence proves my point).  Joanna had this to say:

        Joannna (at 1:04) :[concerning her being mentioned in the survey] The message came to me in worried tones, and I have a worry streak in me, like a lot of Mormon feminist who have witnessed the excommunication of their role models. . .  So I went there for a little bit.”

        I can assure you that the members of other churches don’t find the mention of their name in a church survey worthy of the description “creepy” or “worrisome”.

        • Tim
          October 17, 2011 at 12:37 am

          1:09 — Why would people mentioned in the survey need to be put “at ease”?  “At ease” from what?

          1:19 — Joanna: “I would hate to see a reprise of the earlier type of logic.” (early 90’s Stake President’s Courts based on Signature Books authors list.)

          1:21 — Joanna: “and yet for some of use that groove is worn into our consciousness, it’s just hard not to got there because it was painful. I’m rooting for the Church to be graceful in this 21st Century moment.”

          1:23 — Dan: “I look at surveys like this I wonder what’s going on behind it and I still have that angst, can this church change? . . . .I’m hopeful to look at this survey not sinisterly.”

          Dan, are you still holding to your earlier statement that there wasn’t even “mere hand-wringing over possibly getting kicked out of the Mormon club”? If these quotes aren’t references to possible church discipline/excommunication, what are they about?  Is there a fear that your Sunday morning coupons aren’t going to be delivered?  All of you conclude that there is nothing to fear, but why do you even have to have that conversation to begin with?  Clearly there was SOME hand-wringing about excommunication. 

          Yes, I’m sure of what I heard.

          • Dan Wotherspoon
            October 17, 2011 at 5:52 pm

            Thanks for finding the moments you did here and below where you see hand-wringing or other worries. Good to be reminded of them. I will concede that there were expressions of some hand-wringing. In the overall context of the discussion, however, I still don’t sense either Joanna or McKay or me having any real genuine anxiety over the survey. I see Joanna the two of them primarily sharing what their initial reactions were before they knew more about it, and certainly with Joanna and me having been in the middle of some of the ugliness of the 90s actions against intellectuals, there is still that groove of our having seen the church behave terribly in the past toward people we loved and admired and sort of “going there” in our minds for a bit. Perhaps the Church will prove us wrong and will act out of fear again, but until then, I’m not (and I don’t sense they are) spending much if any energy on such worries.

            What are Sunday morning coupons?

          • Tim
            October 17, 2011 at 6:05 pm

            “Sunday morning coupons” are the coupons that come in your Sunday morning newspaper.  It was a reference to something you clearly wouldn’t be worried about in the context of the discussion.

          • Dan Wotherspoon
            October 17, 2011 at 8:54 pm

            Ahh. Definitely know of those. Was thinking you might have been referring to the the idea of going to church on Sunday mornings as some kind of reference to “works”–earning a “ticket to heaven” or “credits” kind of thing that some who are fear motivated might think is part of the LDS gospel. Sorry about that…

        • Christian J
          October 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm

          Tim, are you implying that other churches don’t exercise church discipline? Aren’t you missing evidence of this practice in the Bible? It looks like another rock thrown from a glass house.

  12. October 17, 2011 at 2:36 am

    I was glad that you had this podcast.  The comments made by Pastor Jeffress really disappointed and upset me.  Even more unfortunately, I have witnessed a lot of red-pill Mormons who seem to be agreeing with Pastor Jeffress that Mormonism is a cult.  To me, that is very unfortunate.  To the degree Mormonism is a cult, all religions are cults, so I bristle at any depiction of our church as a cult.

    Here’s my summary on the whole “cult” issue:
    Belief is a very critical component of our lives. By belief, we commit our hearts, not just our minds, to a way of life.  A belief is different than a thought.  When we say belief, we say that our hearts and minds have met and are united on something.  Religion concerns itself with these things–with the our desires and feelings about things, not just our thoughts.  Without beliefs, we may conceptually understand the difference between
    good and evil, but that does not make us desire the good.  That’s how
    religion is different than education and secularism.  For that reason, religion plunges deeper and asks more of us and gets mixed up into our lives in a more intertwined and embedded way with us personally, with our families and our culture. 

    Consequently, that makes religion a bit harder to leave than merely transferring colleges or changing a major. Some people think that the church may be cultish because it’s difficult to leave. Granted, it is sometimes difficult to disentangle oneself from a belief
    system, but that doesn’t make Mormonism a cult.  The very embedded nature of religion makes this hard.

    Think of it this way:
    Our belief system is like a wooden latticework and our lives–our hearts, our minds, and our daily actions–grow as vines that weave themselves through the lattice and rise to the sun–to our best versions of ourselves. One cannot simply rip out the lattice from the vines without disrupting the vines; they have become a single interdependent whole and must be considered together and cannot be considered or analyzed separately and discretely. We have become part of our belief system and it has become part of us.  It’s even deeper than culture.  It’s the way in which we have embedded ourselves in the world and intertwined ourselves with it.  

    So when I hear people saying that it’s very difficult to leave Mormonism, I say of course! You can’t rip the lattice from the vines in a single tug without disrupting the vines.  Leaving the church or renouncing one’s belief system is a very difficult process that requires introspection and care and deliberation.  But, that doesn’t make Mormonism a cult.  It’s very disappointing to hear these things from Jeffress or from our own peeps.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm

      Excellent. Thanks, Jonah!

  13. Eric
    October 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I enjoyed the podcast. My main concern — and I’m an LDS person who has had considerable contact with evangelicals — is that Joanna (I love her passion!) may have given the impression that the norm in evangelicalism is to be of the mindset of Pastor Jeffress with regard to Mormonism. That may have been true in Joanna’s formative years (I remember watching Decker’s famous film myself back then), but my experience is that it isn’t true to today, except perhaps among those of the fundamentalist wing of evangelicalism. Unlike Mormonism (which seems to be culturally stuck in the 1960s in a lot of ways — if I were to ever get a graduate degree I’d like to do my dissertation on why that is), U.S. evangelicalism has changed quite a bit in the past 30 or 40 years. Although in his part of the country Jeffress might not exactly be an outlier, he probably would be in the West. At least in the evangelicalism I’ve seen in recent years, preaching against other religions isn’t much of a focus these days. Although evangelicals who know much about Mormonism (most don’t) are likely to be suspicious at best, they’re more likely to find it weird than cultist. I hadn’t heard that label applied to us in years.And, for what it’s worth, Romney has received a significant amount of evangelical support, even with other evangelicals in the contest. (Even Jeffress said he’s vote for Romney over Obama.) I try not to take comment like Jeffress’ personally. Although he awkwardly explained this later, when people like Jeffress use the word “non-Christian” or “cult” to describe Mormonism, they don’t necessarily mean anything sinister (although I do think that Jeffress is smart enough to know exactly how his words would be interpreted). What they mean is that we don’t believe some things that they believe are essential to Christianity — and we don’t. And it’s not just the Nicene Creed either. By evangelical standards, there are certainly strains of thought in the LDS church that are offensive, and if that’s enough for them to consider us to be of a different religion than they are, that’s fine by me.I do think they would be better understood if they were to call us heretical Christians (or apostate Christians) than non-Christians. But that is generally what they mean when they call us non-Christian, so I’m content to give them the benefit of the doubt on that one. Many evangelicals — I’m not talking about the leaders but the ones that fill the pews — honestly don’t know that there are ways of interpreting the Bible other than their own. So I’m prepared to grant them a little bit of grace in that regard.

    • Eric
      October 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm

      Sorry about the lack of spacing. The blog doesn’t seem to like if I paste my comment in from a text document.

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        October 17, 2011 at 5:58 pm

        Good stuff, Eric. Thanks!

        Others have trouble with formatting too. Maybe copying first into WordPad or some program that gets rid of a lot of the Word formatting, then pasting into the comments? 

        Also, I’m happy to go into the blog’s back editing area and insert line breaks, etc., for you if you let me know where you want them. I’ve done that with Morris Thurston’s two posts in this conversation, as he was having similar troubles with formatting.

        Best,
        Dan

  14. Smith Jacob1980
    October 20, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Did John Larsen and Mormon Expression come up on the survey?  Just curious

    • Morris Thurston
      October 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      No, they did not. At least not in the version that I responded to.

  15. Dan Wotherspoon
    October 24, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Impressed with Rosalynde Welch’s post at Patheos about the Jeffress’ cult claims: http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Know-You-Are-But-What-Am-I-Rosalynde-Welch-10-14-2011?offset=0&max=1

    It includes an excellent comment about Jeffress’s attempt after the immediate firestorm to nuance his claims about Mormonism as a “theological cult” rather than “sociological cult” (ala Jonestown or the Branch Davidians). Speaking of the famous Anderson Cooper interview, Welch observes: “to his credit Jeffress acknowledged that Mormonism is not a sociological
    cult. Anderson Cooper showed zero interest in exploring the
    distinction, however, and Jeffress did not exactly press the point. He
    clearly wants to exploit the frisson of the popular meaning of
    cult—the sociological meaning—while maintaining plausible deniability
    behind the narrower theological meaning.” 

    I have been casting about a bit for some language to nail exactly what Jeffress has been trying to do, and I think this last line nails it.  Great stuff, Rosalynde! Thanks!

  16. Michael
    November 1, 2011 at 2:39 am

    Joanne, hearing you talk about your high school experience with evangelical Christians calling Mormons a cult, I tried comparing that to my high school experience. Springville, UT, 1975-1978. How would you feel to be one of the 15-20 non-LDS students in a school of 600. You sit down in 4th period math class next to a Mormon student who just came from 3rd period release-time Seminary where the teacher just gave another lecture on “don’t date people from other faiths.” Do you know how hard social life was for those few non-LDS students? 

    Or, how would you like to be the one African-American in the school who was turned down by every girl he asked out because the President of the Church taught that you should not marry outside your race. (That quote by Spencer W. Kimball is still in today’s Aaronic Priesthood manuals!) 

    One of the characteristics of a cult is the obsessive need to create an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Frequently, the way this is done is by demonizing the “others.” No matter how you re-interpret this as culture vs. doctrine, it is a fact that your high school experience was just the other side of the coin of any non-LDS student in a predominately LDS high school. 

  17. Gwen Oliphant
    December 9, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    I know that this podcast was released a while ago, but I would love to hear the panelists views about respectful discourse about Mormons in the national media in light of Maureen Dowd and Harold Bloom’s recent pieces in the New York Times. To me they seemed total hatchet jobs, i.e. a list of out-of-context, obscure speculative theology strung together to present Mormons as unreasonable weirdos. I could barely believe that even a more liberal-leaning paper like the New York Times would publish it! (And I should say that I am generally pretty partial to the New York times editorial bent). 

    My husband is a political scientist and he has said that for all of the respectful coverage presented in light of Pastor Jeffress’ remarks, the real heat is yet to come. For all of our “I’m a Mormon, I’m just like you” ad campaigns, most Americans still think of us as out of the mainstream. If Mitt Romney wins the nomination I think we can expect negative coverage both from the extreme left and extreme right and in more subtle ways ( i.e., “Don’t you believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers?”).

  18. Asdasd
    February 21, 2012 at 1:23 am

     Cult is defined as:
    ‘A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.’Considering the magic underpants and the book of mormon being written in 17th century english despite being written in the 19th century, then yeah, I’d say it’s a cult. That was just two examples, but there’s definitely cases of it being ‘strange’, and on the ‘sinister’ front – how about all that horrible stuff it says about black people?

  19. Zackd3
    March 11, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    The cultism that has arrisen in the church since it collectively fell under the curse of a broken law of consecration, has not yet been resended as far as I know.  Now the question would be…How has it manifested itself to the point where one day the Lod says He must set His House in order ?  And yet from all outward appearances it doesn’t appear that way.
     
    If it has indeed crept in among us, it must be hidden from our own view.  Yet the Lord proclaims something is amiss that must be ammended.  So rather than falling for the easy temptation to accept things at “Face Value”, it may be worth one’s time to dig a little deeper than appearanes.  In other words…Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  And in Our Case, the Lord is telling us through the scriptures given to Warn Us,  that the “Cover Face” of the church is concealing something beneath it’s surface.
     
    Malichi tells us that we have robbed the Lord of His titihes and that God has a particular problem with that.  It wouldn’t make much sense to think the aveage tithe payer is robbing God, so who is ?  Well, we have a cosortium of church owned companies that are propped up on tithe payers donations to the Lord.   Who MANAGES these church assests and benefits from them MONETARILY ?
     
    There has been a money laundering opperation set up to funnel tithes into the pockets of Church Leaders who manage these companies.  They ARE PAID for the positions they hold within these companies as Ceo’s and Board Members and Managing Personel. Yet CONCEAL their annonimity behind their unpaid ecclastical duties as the Lord’s Servants.
     
    It all comports well with the Corporate Laws of our land, but I think this is what the Lord finds a litle repulsive when it comes to what is being done with HIS money. 

    The scriptures explaining this are not lying to us.  But I would venture to say that this is the reason that when Church assets are reported on at conference, that it’s done in the most GENERIC wasy possible and we are told to trust our leaders with the Lord’s Money.  Well, before it was the Lord’s Money it was MY money & is the reason we have corpoate disclosure laws.  But our church is the only church that doen’t publish this information to it’s shareholders.

    It’s there, but how many of you have attempted to look it up and see who gets paid what,  for supposedly doing the Lord’s FREE Work ?

  20. Zackd3
    March 11, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    According to the laws of Corporate Babylon our leaders have been true & faithful.  According to the Lord’s Law they have been a little greedy.  What a shameful way to put themselves out in front of us as the Lord’s Anointed, when what they have been annointed with, is His Money. 

    At the highest levels of leadership in the church, is where you will find highly paid keepers of the Kingdom.  So YES…I would say that we’ve BECOME an occult bent on material wealth that we are encouraged to persue.  Those at the bottom are always dupes to those at the top.  If the church did not have a Corporate side to it that was run by our leaders, then I would think we would be in pretty good standing before God.  But how guilty are WE for ALLOWING this to happen ?

    Did not Nephi warn us of our day to NOT LET that secret combination to get “Over Us” ?  A “Secret” because they have tried to CONCEAL this from us by creating a Babylonian Legal Money Launderng Corporation to disguise it’s real intent  to Rob God of His tithes ?  Occult ?  It is now…Until the Lord fixes that.

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