Richard Mouw, president of Full Theological Seminary (until he retires in 1013), is a noted voice for civility in religious conversation. He has studied the religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes called Mormons, the way Mormons ask that it be studied—by meeting with Mormons regularly and getting their teachings from them, not from outsiders who don’t understand or even know. He meets with a group of leading evangelicals and Mormons in closed door sessions, so they can speak openly, who discuss their faiths in respectful ways, seeking to understand, not to argue, debate, or attack.
Mouw has faced criticism for his call for religious civility. This, of course, is odd, since it comes from people who worship Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is the primary force behind the move for kindness and respect, calling on His followers to treat others the way they themselves want to be treated.
Mouw, like most evangelicals, does not believe Mormons fit into historical Christianity. Mormons agree if historical Christianity refers to the doctrines canonized by a variety of post-Biblical councils. Instead, Mormons consider themselves a restoration of the Christianity of the New Testament as taught by Jesus Christ and His apostles. Many of the teachings in these later committees contradict Biblical teachings.
Mouw does, however, believe that Mormons are followers of the same Jesus Christ he worships. He admits that the people in his discussion group often find they are not as far apart in doctrine as they thought they were. Often, the differences involve different uses of language, more than different beliefs.
One area in which Richard Mouw has been very vocal is in the use of the word cult to describe Mormons. He is an expert on the subject of cults, and when the word is used correctly, rather than as a way to get people to feel instead of think, he says Mormonism does not fit the definition of a cult, even when you move outside the dictionary definition, which fits all religions, including that of the evangelicals.
His very presence in the discussion group is one proof that Mormonism is not a cult, he wrote for CNN. Cults don’t participate in inter-faith discussions. They also believe only they benefit from God’s love and favor and that only they are a source of truth. He points out that Mormons believe God loves, blesses, and uses people of all faiths and they often quote non-Mormons as sources of inspiration and truth in their semi-annual conference and they often read and study the leaders of other faiths in a positive way, not as a venue for attack. For instance, in a 2011 talk, Thomas S. Monson, current prophet and president of the Church, quoted Jonathon Sacks, Britain’s Chief Rabbi.
Mouw also noted that cults don’t operate colleges and universities that bring in knowledge from the outside world. Mormons are noted for their high level Brigham Young University, and for the fact that many of their top leadership have degrees from non-Mormon universities, including ivy-league schools. Mormons are not afraid to let their members learn the teachings of the outside world, and this means they cannot be a cult.
Richard Mouw is an example of the way Jesus Christ expects us to interact with one another. The Lord always treated people with differing beliefs with great respect and He taught us repeatedly to do the same.