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The Mormon Mirage 5 of 5 by Latayne C. Scott

Categories Theology

A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today

5 of 5: "Can You Un-Cult a Cult?"

I know that many people are unsure today of the definition of the word "cult." When I was writing one of my books, Why We Left a Cult: Six People Tell Their Stories (Baker), several challenges arose. First, of course, was to formulate a working definition of a pseudo-Christian cult.1 Second (and, I thought at first, easiest) was to identify groups which qualified to be called cults. The third challenge was finding suitable ex-cultists to interview.

In the course of narrowing down my list of cults, I paused over the Worldwide Church of God. At that time, just after the death of the founder Herbert W. Armstrong, WWCG members began to question many of the former legalistic doctrines, exclusivist teachings, and prophetic speculations of its authoritarian and charismatic founder.

In the end, I decided not to include the WWCG in my list of cults. Much to the dismay of ex-WWCG members (whose angry letters to me still grace cyberspace – see, Mormons, I am an equal-opportunity offender), I acknowledged that I saw a possibility of true change. "I am fascinated with the prospect that a cult, as a group, can turn to God," I wrote in the introduction to my book.

On April 3, 2009, the group formerly known as The Worldwide Church of God announced a name change to reflect what it calls its "complete reformation to Christian orthodoxy." The group publicly repudiated all the aberrant teachings of Armstrong. The "Grace Communion International" now is Trinitarian, Incarnational, and teaches salvation by grace.

The cult is no longer a cult.

Mormonism earnestly desires to leave behind its cultic image. I know that to be the case. They give new, special prominence to the name of Jesus Christ in their logo. The missionary lessons that used to begin with the story of Joseph Smith (and his assertion, still in their scriptures, that all Christian churches were wrong and their adherents corrupt) now put the focus elsewhere, on Christian-ness and family values. They actively seek bridges between their church and those of traditional, orthodox Christianity.

I want that, too. I would love for every word I ever wrote about Mormonism’s great distance from orthodoxy to be as obsolete as the old books about the Worldwide Church of God.

Here’s how Grace Communion International did it. They didn’t just change representations, they changed facts. In other words, they didn’t just want people’s perceptions of their doctrines to change, they changed their doctrines.

Can Mormonism do that? Can they abandon the deification of man, the humanizing of God, the ostracizing of Scripture, and embrace salvation through faith?

My favorite proverb is apt here:

"No matter how far you have gone down the wrong road, turn around!"

1) Though a group may have characteristics such as charismatic authoritarian leadership, unconventional dress and practices, or reclusive living, none of these demand the label of cult. What follows is admittedly a simplified definition, because of necessary limitations of space. A pseudo-Christian cult uses the terminology of Christianity and the Bible, but does four things. First, it humanizes God or otherwise redefines Him in unorthodox terms. Second, it deifies humans or otherwise redefines them other than how the Bible does. Thirdly, it ostracizes Scripture by devaluing, rewriting, or defining it as only one of multiple sources of scripture. And fourth, it provides a different view of salvation other than the orthodox one.

Scottl Latayne C. Scott was a faithful and happy Mormon for ten years, attending Brigham Young University on writing scholarship and working as a staff member for two of BYU’s weekly magazines. She is the author of thirteen published books, including The Mormon Mirage, Why We Left Mormonism and After Mormonism, What? She has also published articles and poems in secular magazines and in major Christian magazines. She is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s "Distinguished Christian Service Award" for "creative Christian writing." She is a representational thinker and a full-time writer, living in New Mexico. Her Web sites are http://www.latayne.com/ and http://www.representationalresearch.com/.

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