Exploitation? As for exploitative leadership, this charge is absolutely false and always has been. Joseph Smith passed the money test with flying colors: He died poor and in debt, not because of profligate spending, but because any money that flowed into his hands flowed right back out again in attempts to benefit the saints and build the church.

In the years since, a handful of church offices have become salaried, but the salaries are merely enough to sustain normal family life. The perks of wealth are shunned even by those church leaders who were rich before being called to one of those rare salaried offices. And church leaders constantly struggle to eliminate the sycophancy, the cult of personality, and the general "sucking up" that are bound to arise in any hierarchical organization.

By any honest measure, Mormon church leaders, from Joseph Smith on, have a remarkable record of genuine humility. They really do try to be the servants rather than the masters of the saints.

Automatons? Those who have actually lived in a Mormon ward--and especially those who have tried to lead a group of Mormons in any kind of activity--can all affirm one truth: Mormons may well be the most stubborn, independent-minded group of people ever assembled as a religious community.

Joseph Smith received a revelation that established the only style of leadership that actually works in the Mormon church (or, in the long run, anywhere): You can only lead by persuasion, by love, by patience, by your own willingness to learn from those you lead. Every now and then, some local Mormon leader will try to give orders or attempt to manipulate people into doing things his way. But he very quickly learns that the more he does that, the less obedient we Mormons become.

Far from being robots, most of us Mormons are, by inclination and by doctrine, determined to make up our own minds about everything. It's a core doctrine of Mormonism that each member of the church is personally and individually responsible for their own relationship with God.

Isolation? As for the cultish trait of isolating converts from any other influence, or brainwashing them till they can't think for themselves, our method of teaching would-be proselytes is the opposite. We usually teach them in their own homes. Our missionaries come for a little while and then leave them to themselves to read, ponder, and pray. We counter the attacks of anti-Mormons by telling the truth about our beliefs and practices, not by trying to cut off contact with our opponents.

Far from becoming isolated, a new convert to Mormonism is taught to be more respectful and loving to parents, spouse, children, and other family members and friends. They usually do better at their careers and education, and if withdrawal takes place it is because their new Mormon lifestyle and beliefs are rejected by their family or friends.

Kettles and Pots

On all these points, I daresay that the Mormon church is less cult-like than many of the religions that delight in calling us one.

Indeed, calling Mormonism a cult is usually an attempt to get people to behave like robots, blindly obeying the command that they reject Mormonism without any independent thought. Kettles, as they say, calling the pot black.

Here's the simplest statement I can make: If Mormonism were a cult, I would know it, and I would not be in it.

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