I’ve been accused of belonging to a cult. I was raised in a church that thought true Christianity started less than two hundred years ago, when good men broke from traditional Christianity and created my branch. I was taught that the Church had been going down hill ever since Jesus and the Apostles walked the earth. But ours was true, Biblical Christianity. We rejected Creeds (which we called the Creeds of Man), we baptized by immersion (sprinkling was for people with a poor grasp of the meaning of baptize–to immerse), and don’t call us a mere denomination. After all, we were the True Church.
No, I was never a Latter Day Saint, but a member of the Church of Christ. (For those of you not in the South…this is not Obama’s liberal United Church of Christ, just the non-instrumental music, Southern-style Church of Christ.)
The “cult” status attached to the CoC pretty strongly. In fact, when a Tennessee preacher’s wife recently shot and killed her husband in cold blood, pundits everywhere speculated it was because they belonged to a cult. Take this transcript from Nancy Grace:
NANCY GRACE: A well-respected and much beloved minister in the Church of Christ, Selmer, Tennessee, gunned down in his own home. His wife, according to many reports, has confessed to police. They say whodunnit is not the issue, it`s why she did it. That is the question.
I want to go to pastor Tom Rukala, joining us tonight, a special guest, a Baptist minister. I`ve been researching the Church of Christ. I don`t know that much about it. What can you tell me?
PASTOR TOM RUKALA, BAPTIST PASTOR: Well, the Church of Christ is a relatively new church. It was started about 150 years ago by Alexander Campbell (ph). And it’s, unfortunately, a very legalistic sect, and they tend to use methods of intimidation and pressure tactics. They claim that they are the only ones going to heaven, and all other people are condemned to hell. So in case…
GRACE: Uh-oh, I’m in trouble. But I already knew that.
GRACE: Now, wait a minute. What more can you tell me?
RUKALA: Well, they claim that if you`re not baptized by one of their ministers, that you`re doomed to hell, even if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, which, of course, breaks completely from the traditional Christian view that all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved because we`re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again. For the Church of Christ folks, that`s not enough. You have to be a member of their narrow sect. It’s a very exclusive group. And if you’re not a member of their sect, you`re condemned.
GRACE: You know, Pastor, you keep saying “sect.” “Sect.” You make it sound like a cult.
RUKALA: It kind of is a borderline cult, unfortunately. I don`t want to make it out to be some kind of Hare Krishna group, but it has cult-like characteristics and…
GRACE: In what sense?
RUKALA: Well, in the sense of the exclusivism, the attitude that they are the only ones who know the truth. The tactics that they use are sometimes just — not only un-biblical but unethical, and they can be very ungracious, unfortunately.
So, to all of you who have written kind, thoughtful (not to mention long–don’t you Mormons work during the day?) e-mails, I get it. Not to the degree that you “get it” about the dreaded “c-word,” but I have a vague idea.
One of the reasons I linked to Frank Pastore’s article is because I thought it served a good purpose. Like it or not, Mormonism is considered by some to be a cult. Yet, as Pastore’s article points out, these people can still in good conscience vote for Gov. Romney. This is an important message.
As we have said repeatedly, we disagree with LDS theology:
Yes, Gov. Romney is a Mormon. We are not. According to the liberal media, this is an unbridgeable gap, and evangelicals will never turn out to support a faithful Mormon like Governor Romney. As usual, the media have it wrong. And they root their error (as usual) in a fundamental misunderstanding about American evangelicals—seeing us as ignorant and intolerant simpletons who are incapable of making sophisticated political value judgments.
To be perfectly clear, we believe Governor Romney is not only acceptable to conservative Christians, but that he is clearly the best choice for people of faith. He is right on all the issues, and he has proven his positions with actions. He is a gifted and persuasive spokesman for our political and moral values. Here is the bottom line: the 2008 election is for president, not pastor. We would never advocate that the Governor become our pastor or lead our churches—we disagree with him profoundly on theological issues. But we reject the notion that the president of the United States has to be in perfect harmony with our religious doctrine. In fact, that is not a test that has been applied before—after all, Jimmy Carter was probably more theologically in line with evangelicals than Ronald Reagan, yet we believe that Reagan was clearly the better choice in 1980.
I think the point that many, many, many of you so eloquently made today in my inbox was that Pastore’s definition of the word “cult” was too narrow and misleading. I grant that the word does conjure up some images of a giant red Kool-Aid keg party. That is obviously not what Mormonism is. However, please have grace for your evangelical neighbors who are struggling to articulate their deeply held beliefs about your deeply held beliefs. (And don’t tell me y’all don’t disagree with us theologically–I was cornered the other day in the lobby of a Marriott by a Mormon who lectured me on baptism by immersion. Me–of all people–the former Church of Christer! I was dunked in a swimming pool, for crying out loud)
The bottom line? Gov. Romney needs the votes of people who disagree with his theology. In fact, that’s the very reason Evangelicals for Mitt exists. Let’s don’t get too theologically squishy (as Charles once said) and say we’re all the same. But let’s also not get on our high horses and condemn each other. Let’s just vote for Gov. Romney, and try to convert each other in the privacy of our own homes.
Interested in switching from Mormonism and joining a church with comparatively weak choir? Then, drop a line to this alto-forced-to-sing-soprano.
Otherwise, let’s don’t let theological differences prohibit us from joining forces and electing the first President…named after baseball equipment. There’s really too much at stake.