Robert Jeffress and the History of Anti-Mormonism

Paul Harvey

Earlier this year John Turner reviewed for our blog Patrick Mason's new book The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South, a book foreshadowed in an outstanding article in the Journal of Southern History.

Good time to be reminded of this again while Mitt Romney endures the latest round of this particular ugliness. Over at Religion Dispatches, Joanna Brooks interviews Mason, and the two discuss the various stages of anti-Mormonism in American history -- from violent vigilantism in the mid-19th century, to the adoption of the "cult" terminology in the 1960s and 1970s (a word that my students still use to describe anything in religion that strikes them as vaguely weird or outside their experience), and more recently to "organized anti-Mormonism," reflected in the comments of the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. A little excerpt:

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.


Edward J. Blum said…
great interview; great book!
Anonymous said…
[RAH - Saw this snippet on the net not long ago. Allessandra]

LDS a "cult"? What about the "rapture"?

by Bruce Rockwell

Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is "not a Christian" and Mormonism is a "cult," according to Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the Dallas (TX) First Baptist Church.
His "cult" remark is based on his belief that the Latter Day Saints church (which didn't exist before 1830) is outside "the mainstream of Christianity."
But Jeffress hypocritically promotes the popular evangelical "rapture" (theologically the "any-moment pretribulation rapture") which is outside mainstream Christianity (Google "Pretrib Rapture Politics") and which also didn't exist before 1830 (Google "Pretrib Rapture Diehards" and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty")!
And there are 50 million American rapture cultists (some of whom turn Wikipedia into "Wicked-pedia" by constantly distorting the real facts about the rapture's bizarre, 181-year-old history) compared with only 14 million LDS members.
The most accurate documentation on pretrib rapture history that I have found is in a nonfiction book titled "The Rapture Plot" which is carried by leading online bookstores. I know also that the same 300-page work can also be borrowed through inter-library loan at any library.