That helps me understand the edge I hear in the contemporary caricaturing of Mormonism as a “cult.” It’s not just theological differentiation. There’s an edge to the accusation. It’s a residue of the anti-Mormon violence of the nineteenth century.
Yes. Once Mormons drop polygamy in the late nineteenth century, anti-Mormon violence stops. Violent anti-Mormonism disappears, whereas African-American lynching does not. But latent ideas of Mormons as polygamists continue to dominate the Southern imagination.
Usage of the word “cult” as a descriptor for Mormonism picks up steam in the 1960s as a reaction to new religious movements like the Moonies, Jonestown, Scientology, and so forth. It also indexes a feeling of eroding religious authority on the part of mainline and evangelical Protestants who have had a custodial relationship to culture in the American South. Beginning in the 1960s, with greater secularism, there comes a sense that this Protestant custodial relationship is under threat. “Cult” becomes a catch-all phrase to catch new and unrecognizable religious movements.
Mason also discusses the role that anti-Mormonism also plays for church authorities (to label dissenting views or mild criticisms as "anti-Mormon"), and praises Mitt Romney's handling of the latest controversy.