There’s something deeply troubling about the decision by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to remove Mormons from the list of cults on their web site.
My concern is not with failing to list any particular group as a cult. In fact, as commonly used in Christian apologetics, I don’t think the label or lists of groups to which it should be applied, is very helpful. My approach is to be positive. I believe in a set of doctrines that I could label broadly orthodox Christianity (note lower case ‘o’), i.e. I’m a trinitarian Christian and I can say the Apostles’ Creed without crossing my fingers. My understanding is that a Mormon could not. That doesn’t make Mormons bad people, and the label “cult” tends to suggest that. At the same time, I don’t think it’s bigoted to point out that my beliefs and those of Mormons are not compatible in the sense that we won’t be in fellowship at the same church.
If, at some point other than the election, the BGEA had removed the reference to Mormons as a cult in order to foster dialog, without otherwise modifying their doctrinal statement (i.e., one could easily read and see who believes what), I would have no objection. What troubles me is that this is done in the context of the election. That gives the feeling that this was done to accomplish a political goal.
That’s dangerous in at least two ways. First, if it was important to note those differences in a document on cults before, what changed? Politics. The desire to elect a particular candidate has changed the way Christian beliefs are proclaimed. The gospel has been subjected to a political agenda. Second, it implies that even if Mitt Romney agrees with a Christian voter on most issues, he really needs to be labeled a Christian before we can vote for him. There are many reasons one might dislike or oppose Romney. The fact that he holds different doctrinal beliefs than I do is not one of them.
Under the appropriate circumstances I could vote for a person who is Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, agnostic, atheist, or any of a number of other faiths. What are the “appropriate circumstances?” Agreement on a political agenda and the belief that the candidate has the integrity to carry out those goals.
It has been noted by many that we’re not voting for pastor-in-chief, and rightly so, though people seem less likely to apply that standard to the candidate they oppose. At the same time, we must not behave as though we’re electing a pastor-in-chief. And that means don’t subordinate the gospel and the mission of the church to the beliefs of our candidate or to a political agenda. To those in the church, no political agenda can be as important as the mission of the church.
(Also note comments on this topic by Arthur Sido.)