By Kurt Van Gorden
Hugh Hewitt, a political pundit radio personality, wants the Mormon presidential election runner Mitt Romney in the Whitehouse—very badly. He casts his pre-election vote in writing A Mormon in the Whitehouse? (Regnery, 2007). In defense of Romney, Hewitt also defends Mormonism better than some Latter-day Saints (LDS). This is strange for a Presbyterian, as what Hewitt claims for himself. It is possible and logically consistent that Hewitt could defend Romney as a republican without defending Mormonism, but he chooses otherwise. The reason that I find this strange is that Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed that God appeared to him and told him that Hugh’s church, Presbyterianism, is not true. God’s official statement on Presbyterians is found in Mormon scripture. To remain faithful to the prophet Joseph Smith, Romney cannot believe other that what Joseph Smith wrote in his scripture, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true” (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith—History 1:20).
Is Hewitt slipping in his faith? Or is he just plain ignorant that real Mormonism condemns his faith by name? This anti-Presbyterian sentiment (hence, anti-Hewitt’s chosen faith) is recorded where Joseph Smith had a vision of God the Father (as a male being) and Jesus Christ in the spring of 1820. Smith asked God which Protestant denomination was true—the Methodists, Presbyterians, or Baptists. Smith’s vision, as found in LDS scripture, states that these three denominations alone were in Palmyra, New York (1:9). Smith then queried, “Who of all these parties is right; or, are they all wrong together?” (1:10). Clearly Joseph Smith wanted to know if Presbyterianism (Hugh Hewitt’s faith) was “right” or “wrong.” He was answered by a personal appearance of God the Father and Jesus Christ in New York, where Jesus directly told him, “join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof’” (1:19).
Hugh is in big trouble with Jesus! To be most like his friend Mitt Romney, he needs to repent of his “wrong” Presbyterianism (since Jesus said so!) and repent of his creeds (beliefs) that are so abominable to Jesus, and repent of his corrupt faith. Of the three denominations, Smith singled out the Presbyterians as specifically “not true.” Hewitt needs to get right with the Jesus found in Mormon scripture. Mormon scripture is clearly “anti-Presbyterian.” Yet in the strangest twist of Hugh’s logic, he labels anyone an “anti-Mormon” in his book who has the same opinion of Mormonism as what Joseph Smith did of Presbyterians, but nowhere in his book did he call Smith (or Romney) an anti-Presbyterian.
Here is an example of how Hewitt defended Mormonism from his May 4, 2007 radio program:
Caller Greg: “The question I have is, I know very little about Mormonism, and my question falls into the cult or denomination thing. I think, was it Pastore, a columnist with Townhall, wrote an article a couple of weeks ago? It’s about the sum total of what I know about it.”
Hewitt: “I would encourage you to read my book, which of course is not a surprise to you, it’s available at Amazon dot com. I reject the cult title. I believe cult has about it an element of coercion, which is simply not applicable to the Mormons and it is a sect.”
Caller Greg: “Do you think”…[Greg was obviously drowned out and cut off the air by Hewitt.]
Hewitt: “I just don’t believe that you should call…. Cult carries with it this wheezing of an organ in the background and the idea of chains in the basement and the Branch Davidian and James Jones and I think it is inappropriate for conversation. And when I see Frank next, I’m going to argue that point with him. Cause, I just don’t think…if…if…and I do know where it comes from…Walter Martin wrote the Kingdom of the Cults, but Walter Martin blames that Hinduism is a cult, that Islam is a cult, I don’t think that he calls the Catholic Church a cult, but his definition is expansive. In the modern vernacular it means sinister and the Mormons aren’t just simply not sinister. Hey, Greg, thanks.”
There are problems with Hewitt’s definition of cult. Hewitt does not distinguish between the scholarly definitions of cult from different fields of study, namely psychological, sociological, and theological. He first defined cult psychologically, which under certain circumstances is correct. Some cults use coercion on their members. He failed to tell his audience that this is the psychological definition and that there are other equally legitimate definitions in other fields of study.
To separate Mormonism from his “coercion cult” definition, he then tries to separate Mormonism from coercion. Had Hugh watched the PBS special, The Mormons, that aired just three days earlier (April 30 and May 1), he would have seen how Mormonism uses coercion and psychological pressure on its members. I would suggest that he view The Mormons online (http://www.pbs.org/mormons/view) and pay special attention to the section on the excommunication of the Mormon intellectuals, many of whom were Brigham Young University educated, but when they intellectually differed with their church, then they were humiliated through excommunication. Also pay attention to the section about the pressure within Mormonism for perfection that gives LDS women a higher than national average of suicide and anti-depressant drug usage.
I don’t know how Hewitt missed these things, but a scant Internet research would have shown him a much different story:
- Ken Ponder, Ph.D, “MORMON WOMEN, PROZAC® and THERAPY,
- Julie Cart, “Study Finds Utah Leads Nation in Antidepressant Use,” Los Angeles Times, 20 February 2002, A6.
- Degn, L. Yeates, E. Greenwell, B. Fiddler, L. “Mormon women and depression,”
- Hilton, Sterling C, et al. 2002. Suicide Rates and Religious Commitment in Young Adult Males in Utah. American Journal of Epidemiology. Vol. 155, No. 5: 413-19.
- Even a pro-Mormon BYU study admits that Mormon women use more anti-depressants and commit suidide more than the national average — http://www.usatoday. com/news/health/2004-04-02-mormon-depression_x.htm
Contrary to what Hewitt said, coersion, in fact, applies to Mormonism at several levels, therefore it indeed fits within his first description of a cult.
Hewitt’s next foible was to create a self-styled definition that is not found anywhere, “Cult carries with it this wheezing of an organ in the background and the idea of chains in the basement and the Branch Davidian and James Jones and I think it is inappropriate for conversation.” From where did he get this? This is not what most people think when they hear the word cult. Hugh most likely means “Jim Jones,” with apologies to all of the “James Jones” existing elsewhere. There is no question that the Branch Davidians and Jim Jones (the People’s Temple) were cults, but what made them so? Did they have organs or chains in basements? Neither one did, but perhaps Hugh was thinking of the famous organ at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
It appears that what Hugh was attempting was, again, a psychological or sociological definition of cult. I would suggest more sound and scholarly definitions of a cult from qualified writers who list Mormonism as a cult like sociologist Ronald Enroth, Ph.D. (Evangelizing the Cults, 1990), theologians Alan Gomes, Ph.D. (Unmasking the Cults, 1998); Drs. Nichols, Mather, and Schmidt (Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions, 2007); and a host of others, including some from Hewitt’s reformed Protestant background, like Dr. Jan K. Van Baalan (Chaos of the Cults, 1938; Gist of the Cults, 1944), Dr. Anthony Hoekema (Four Major Cults, 1963; Mormonism, 1973), Dr. Ravi Zacharias (Kingdom of the Cults, general editor, 2006), and Josh McDowell and Don Stewart (The Deceivers, 1992).
Hewitt stated, “I do know where it comes from.” This I doubt, after hearing his answer. The term cult was first used of Mormonism in 1898. Hewitt continued, “Walter Martin wrote the Kingdom of the Cults, but Walter Martin blames that Hinduism is a cult, that Islam is a cult, I don’t think that he calls the Catholic Church a cult, but his definition is expansive.” Since I began working with Walter Martin in 1976 and I have continuously been on the staff of researchers and editors for his works since then, I think that I am better positioned than Hewitt to say what Walter Martin taught.
Hewitt is absolutely wrong. Martin did not state that Hinduism and Islam are cults. Hugh owes Christians an apology for his careless denigration of Martin and his works. Beginning in 1985, Martin included several chapters on world religions in his best-selling Kingdom of the Cults, but he always made clear distinctions between cults and world religions. What Hewitt claims to “know” is a fabrication.
Hewitt’s final statement, “In the modern vernacular it means sinister and the Mormons aren’t just simply not sinister.” This has a twofold problem. It does not define the word cults, but perhaps it describes what some cults do. I challenge Hewitt to find any scholarly work that uses sinister and cult interchangeably as mutually definitional terms. A good theological definition of a cult is “a group of people basing their beliefs upon the worldview of an isolated leadership, which always denies the central doctrines of the Christianity as found in the Bible” (Josh McDowell, The Deceivers, 1992, 15). Mormonism, as what McDowell includes in his book, fits that description with Smith isolating himself from “apostate” Christianity and creating a worldview in opposition to biblical Christianity that contains gods, goddesses, populated worlds, spirit children, and the progression of mankind toward godhood.
The second part of Hewitt’s statement, that Mormons are not sinister, is debatable. Mormons are quite often sinister, in spite of what Hewitt claims. We could talk about such sinister things as the Mountain Meadows massacre, or the numerous scandals through the ages, which is why the Wall Street Journal once stated that Utah is the securities fraud capital of the United States (WSJ, 2/25/1974 and Utah Holiday Magazine, October, 1990), but that aside, I think that Hugh contradicts himself here since he admits that the Mormon Olympic scandal, which was an international embarrassment to the Mormon Church, was straightened out by none other than his wonderful friend, Mitt Romney. How can he say on one hand that Mormons are not sinister and on the other hand state that Mormons were caught in a bribery scandal with the International Olympic Committee that Mitt Romney had to straighten out? Queer, isn’t it? The Mormons even fit Hugh’s last definition of a cult with their sinister actions, which is why Romney had to rescue their reputation.
About the author
Kurt Van Gorden is the director of Jude 3 Missions and the Utah Gospel Mission (established in 1898 as the oldest mission to evangelize the Mormon people).