On Fox & Friends, Pastor Jeffress did not back down from his original remarks, and insisted that when given the choice, evangelical voters still ought to give preference to a Christian instead of someone who doesn’t embrace historical Christianity. However, Jeffress did offer a more precise definition of a cult in order to avoid conveying the image that he considered Mormons to be on the same level as the Branch Davidians or the People's Temple, who most people think of when they hear the word "cult". Jeffress said. “When I’m talking about a cult, I’m not talking about a sociological cult, but a theological cult...Mormonism was invented 1,800 years after Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity. It has its own founder, Joseph Smith, its own set of doctrines and even its own book, the Book of Mormon, in addition to the Bible. That by definition is a theological cult.” Fox News video after the jump:
We still don't agree that we're a cult, but at least Pastor Jeffress, by distinguishing between sociological and theological cults, is sending a message that he intended nothing malicious by referring to us as a cult. Note that Pastor Jeffress also finally admitted that we use the Book of Mormon in addition to the Bible. While those are baby steps, at least it represents some nominal progress. Thus while it is appropriate for us to defend our faith and to rebut misstatements, it would not be appropriate to dump all over Pastor Jeffress and imply that his church is a cult, as some LDS bloggers are doing. Many evangelicals have found out through working with us politically that "our" Jesus was just as crucified, buried, and resurrected as "their" Jesus, that we don't engage in goddess worship, that we don't have orgies in our temples, and that we respect the Bible just as much as they do. It's taken hard work to knit stronger ties with evangelicals, and we don't want to sever those ties in a fit of pique.
In response to Pastor Jeffress' original remarks, the LDS Church issued this brief statement:
We really don’t want to comment on a statement made at a political event, but those who want to understand the centrality of Christ to our faith can learn more about us and what we believe by going to mormon.org.
Unofficial LDS bloggers have reacted, and some are a bit more put out than I.
-- Millennial Star: Notes that we have a longer history of independent existence than the Southern Baptist Convention, which wasn't established until 1845. Characterizes the SBC as a cult.
-- Mormon Mentality: Noted that Pastor Jeffress did not mention the other Mormon presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman Jr, by name. The media completely missed this distinction. Erroneously claimed that Rick Perry belongs to a cult (he's a Methodist).
-- Michael Crook: Characterizes Pastor Jeffress as a bigot, and Southern Baptists as judgmental, hateful, uneducated, and downright contentious. In my experience, this is not so as a rule of thumb. The existence of Liberty University is proof that Baptists are not uneducated, and most of those who believe Mormonism is a cult and un-Christian simply do not have the facts and have very little up close and personal experience with Mormons.
-- A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman: Responded in a more Christ-like fashion than the others. Expressed disagreement with Pastor Jeffress' remarks, but used it as an unofficial member missionary opportunity to promote the LDS Church and its doctrine.
To promote general unity within the body of Christ, I continue to offer this simple two-step litmus test:
(1). Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the literal crucified, buried, and risen Savior?
(2). Do you believe that the Bible, at the very least, is the authoritative word of God?
If your answer to both questions is Yes, then I consider you my brother or sister in Christ regardless of your specific denomination. While you would be smart to be open-minded enough to accept the Book of Mormon as well, we won't demand it as the price of our friendship. Remember, the Great Commission is to build up Christ, not to tear down Christians.