‘Cult’ accusation is a bigoted blast from the past


When evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a “cult” at the Values Voters Summit, a huge gathering of the “pro-family movement,” it brought back all sorts of thoughts for me. Permit me, for a moment, to establish my bona fides … because what I’m about to impart might sting a bit if you don’t first understand that I’ve earned my stripes to say what will be said.

From 1987 to 1997 I worked for the last two courageous social conservatives in the United States House of Representatives, Bill Dannemeyer and Bob Dornan. In their services I have addressed school prayer, “dial-a-porn,” the National Endowment for the Arts, federal AIDS funding, abortion, gay rights, sex education and a raft of other social issues. Along with my dear friend and colleague Allan Carlson, I helped to put the World Congress of Families on the political map and co-authored the book The Natural Family: A Manifesto. I have written tens of thousands of words, given dozens and dozens of speeches and worked tirelessly to lobby in behalf of “traditional values.” I have worked intimately with “pro-family” foundations and the entire nationwide network of organizations that make this work their business. If there were such a thing as a “working Ph.D.” in such matters, I’d have one. Perhaps several. While others might certainly disagree with my comments, I do know what I’ve experienced.

I’ve also been very candid about the shortcomings of the “pro-family movement” – my shortcomings as well as the rest of the troops’. (I once gave a speech in 1993 – with perhaps the most interesting and eclectic gathering of conservatives, from Allan Carlson to the late libertarian Murray Rothbard to a gaggle of anti-gay-rights homosexuals [yeah, you read that right], including one of Phyllis Schlafly’s sons – titled “Nothing Christian About It” wherein I excoriate both pro-family, Pat Robertson-type “Christians” and “libertarian Christians.”)

Chapter 7 in The Natural Family book is titled “Introspection and Confession.” As a co-author, this was one of my chapters. The chapter begins with three quotes – from Cal Thomas, the late Paul Weyrich, and me. Each of us saying the same thing: that the pro-family movement has failed to do its job. A full year prior to the comments of these other two gentlemen, I wrote,

It is time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves some tough questions, not the least of which is, what is the world getting for all our investment?

In my writing of Chapter 7, Allan Carlson was more than patient with me. We sat through two peer review meetings, and that 7th chapter became the main point of contention – partly for what was written and partly for its tone and style. I can remember discussing this chapter with the peer review group over dinner at a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria (Va.) – the others trying to be polite as they displayed bits of astonishment over the candor, accusations and tone of the original chapter. As always, my friend Allan was gracious in running some interference for me (mostly to avoid a more intense, less polite, discussion) and offered to “work with Paul” on some modest changes. What a reader sees in Chapter 7 is the edited version of my comments.

Now here’s the point.

Remarks such as those made by Pastor Jeffress about Mormons are common in the pro-family movement. Latter-day Saints and Catholics never have been fully trusted in the ranks by the “Christians.” It doesn’t matter to the “Christians” that Mormons and Catholics are the ONLY reason our side of the culture war exists today in any effective manner. To the “Christians,” the only thing that seems to matter is the purity of their imaginations. (I need to state here that I have many, many Protestant and some evangelical friends who understand what I mean. These friends, mostly associated with the World Congress of Families, are very dear to me and, appealing to them, I hope they still understand my heart behind these criticisms of our collective work and continue in their patience with me.)

Even in seeking patience from my dear friends in the movement, I have no patience for self-righteous bigots. I say this even as I know certain people today would accuse me of the same behavior. You’ll just have to trust me that there’s a difference between fighting passionately for what you believe and failing to see people as children of God. There’s also a huge difference between the true theological beliefs of Latter-day Saints (and Catholics) and how the “Christians” imagine those beliefs – and these differences are largely defined by bigotry.

If indeed a “Christian” is defined by the Pastor Jeffress, I’m grateful not to be a “Christian.” I prefer to think that the authentic label is an honor earned, not an ideology centered on the notion that a person can get cooties by associating with (or voting for) people of a different faith.

For all that is said and written about religious disagreements or contention in Utah, I can assure everyone that Utahns go about it differently – honestly and constructively – than the manner in which most “pro-family Christians” go about it.