Robert Jeffress - Rick Perry's Jeremiah Wright?A wave of bigotry and hypocrisy has been launched by Pastor Jeffress during the recent Values Voter Summit in Washington. You can get background at Reuters, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, USA Today or at The Christian Science Monitor (who are asking if this is Rick Perry's Jeremiah Wright moment, with evangelical leader Robert Jeffress as Jeremiah Wright).
For me, it is not Pastor Jeffress' definition of "cult", but it's his self righteousness and smug mannerisms during the delivery that makes my skin crawl. In Pastor Jeffress' case, he used the word "cult" pejoratively in the political arena and that is what makes him sound like a petty man. I use his own statement about Mormonism to look at the Southern Baptist Convention and then also the Baptist movement; and then I delve into the definition of "christian" and contrast that definition between Baptists and Mormons. I conclude with an interesting Google search Venn Diagram that includes Baptists, Christians and Mormons.
Jeffress statement about Mormons
Before we begin, let me state that the Southern Baptist Convention, in their world view, label a variety of religions as cults - to put it bluntly, they, by definition, describe the following groups as cults (these are basically religious groups that do not conform to their world view and coincidentally either actively proselytize or have famous people that might draw adherents from the SBC). It should be noted that the SBC calls these groups "strange and dangerous religious movements". The list is small and is taken from an SBC publication titled Cults/Sect Overview - Belief Bulletin (guess who is number one on that list):
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) click here
- Jehovah's Witnesses click here
- United Pentecostal Church click here
- Unitarian Universalist Association click here
- Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS)/Community of Christ click here
- Christian Science click here
- Unity School of Christianity click here
So you can understand that when Pastor Jeffress speaks of cults, he is speaking from his religious world view and its definition of who is in and who is out. With that said, the term is a slur and pejorative and is therefore not appropriate on the political stage.
Pastor Jeffress said the following to Fox News:
"Mormonism was invented 1800 years after Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity, and it has its own founder, Joseph Smith, its own set of doctrines and its own book, the Book of Mormon. And that, by definition, is a theological cult, that's all I'm saying."
For those of you that do not know, Pastor Jeffress is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC was created in May of 1845 when they left the northern baptists over the issue of slavery. Interestingly enough, this is just 15 years after Joseph Smith started The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormons).
The Baptist movement itself was invented in the 16th Century in England by a man named John Smyth. In 1609, John Smyth began the first English baptist church.
Let me now turn Jeffress' paragraph above toward his own religion, specifically the SBC, and let's see how it turns out:
"[The Southern Baptist Convention] was invented 1800 years after Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity, and it has its own founder, [Basil Manly, Sr.], its own set of doctrines and its own book, [the Baptist Faith and Message]. And that, by definition, is a theological cult, that's all I'm saying."
Basil Manly, Sr. is the man that argued for slavery in 1844 in the southern baptist tradition. I will note that in 2005 the SBC renounced it's former positions on slavery.
Now, let's try that same paragraph looking at Baptists in general:
"[The Baptist movement] was invented  years after Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity, and it has its own founder, [John Smyth], its own set of doctrines and its own book, [the Baptist Faith and Message]. And that, by definition, is a theological cult, that's all I'm saying."
Both paragraphs seem to indicate the ridiculous nature of Robert Jeffress' statement about Mormons, as the paragraph can easily be applied to the history of his own religious world view. Interesting, isn't it, that Baptists were started by a John Smyth and Mormons by a Joseph Smith.
Contrasting the definition of Christian between Baptists and Mormons
When it comes down to it, evangelical Christians, like Robert Jeffress, feel they have a copyright on the word Christian. They have worked hard to narrowly define the word. In fact, one blogger likens it to a family and that Baptists have the Christian "DNA-Doctrine" to decide who can and cannot apply the word Christian to themselves.
For this contrast, I begin with the definition of Christian in the Merriam Webster dictionary:
Christian: one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ
Clearly the accepted definition of christian as one who professes to believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ is a wide and expansive definition. It also happens to be the definition used by Mormons. Let's use a Venn Diagram to illustrate the difference between the definition as used by Pastor Jeffress and Mormons.
"Christian" to a Mormon
I use the Venn Diagram below with one circle representing Mormons and the other representing Robert Jeffress' church. It should be noted that Mormons use the Bible in their teachings and adhere to its principles and most especially the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Because the term Christian is used in the Bible and Mormons use the modern definition of christian as anyone that professes to believe in the teachings of Jesus, Mormons would place the term "christian" in the Both section of the Venn Diagram below. Thus the Mormon definition is inclusive and shares the term with Paster Jeffress and his church.
"Christian" to Robert Jeffress
Despite the fact that Mormons use the Bible and a widely acknowledged definition of Christian exists, Robert Jeffress has chosen to use a definition of the word Christian that limits inclusion to his group alone. His group has spent significant time on a list of criteria that exclude others from using the word Christian. To illustrate, if Mormon's are the left circle and Robert Jeffress is the right circle, then Jeffress would put the word Christian in the "or" part of his circle. So we can easily see why he looks so out of touch with the dictionary definition of Christian and bristles when Mormons call themselves christian.
Concluding thoughts: It is my estimation, that Pastor Jeffress' (who in the Southern Baptist Convention rules maintains a lot of autonomy for his congregation) own religion can be identified as a cult, as the SBC came about in 1845 and the Baptists in 1609 from John Smyth; founded by a man. Their use of the Baptist Faith and Message solidifies their differences with Methodists, Catholics and Mormons and can be viewed as their "other book" (although it should be noted that because they don't believe in modern prophetic revelation from God, the order of the bullet points hold no "revealed word of God" status like the Bible). Further, the differences in the definitions of the word Christian demonstrate that Mormons use a more inclusive definition than Pastor Jeffress which angers him. And finally, it is my estimation that Pastor Jeffress has achieved the status of a social cult as described at the Coffee Talk by Christian author Rick Walston of the Columbia Evangelical Seminary in 2001. Pastor Jeffries purposefully used a pejorative term to describe Mormonism in an effort to improve the chances of Rick Perry in the Presidential election of 2012. His actions demonstrate a narrow-mindedness and reveal a bigoted disposition. His actions were inappropriate.
Mormons - Christians - Baptists Venn Diagram
The following Venn Diagram was created by googling "Why are [enter the group] so..." and having Google recommend the top searches. Hat tip to these bloggers for this information.
Definition of Bigot per Merriam Webster Dictionary:
a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance