A Lesson from my Letter to Mormons

Words Matter

After posting my blog, A Letter to Mormons, I received a comment from a woman who spoke to an issue I think many of us have struggled with on both sides of the fence. I want to bring attention to this quote because I have spent weeks sifting through its meaning and how it made me feel.

The woman wrote, “I live in Utah, where my husband and I have moved to dedicate our lives to sharing truth with Mormons and helping them out of their religious cult, which is exactly what it is.”

When I read this comment, my heart sank, blood rushed to my head, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I physically bristled. I immediately began imagining how hurtful this statement could be to the Mormons following the comments on my blog. The whole purpose of my letter was to connect with my Mormon neighbors and this divisive comment broke my heart. I will admit that I struggled with anger as I felt the need to defend all the open-hearted, courageous, loving Mormons who had poured their hearts out in their responses to me and trusted me enough to share their stories. After I processed my initial disappointment, I paused. I paused and considered all the times I had heard this term used in my circle of influence while growing up. It was not until this moment that I realized how damaging this 4-letter word could be. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never thought about the implications of this language until now. I had always assumed that Mormons knew what non-Mormons meant when they used the term “cult” and that any hurt feelings were due to a misunderstanding. Please forgive me for my short-sightedness. As I was reflecting I began to put myself in the shoes of my Mormon neighbors (and new friends, Praise God) and it brought me back to the many moments of name-calling, shaming, and embarrassment I’ve endured throughout my life when I didn’t fit someone’s mold. I began to realize how painful this must be to hear and how nasty it must sound even when the person using the word doesn’t have malicious intent.

First, I want to share (for better or worse) how this term was used in my world. I grew up in a non-denominational Christian household and I was taught that a cult was any faction of Christianity that adds to or changes the Holy Bible, or any religious group that dismisses or alters the main tenets of the Christian faith with unorthodox beliefs. If this is the theological definition and it’s taken at face value, then it explains why Mormonism (with its addition of The Book of Mormon) would be referred to as a cult by non-Mormons who practice the Christian faith and believe the Bible is the Word of God. So, I grew up believing that the term “cult” was a religious technicality that described why and how our faiths and belief systems are different, and although an important difference from my faith perspective, I had not considered all the inherent damage that could be caused from casually throwing this word around.

After some soul searching the last couple of months I’ve come to realize that even when non-Mormons believe this definition, refer to this definition, and use this definition to substantiate their desire to share their faith with Mormons, the issue is how this word makes people feel…what it does to a person’s heart. In our present day and age, the word “cult” goes beyond the theological definition and carries a much heavier and sinister connotation since the tragedies of the Jonestown massacre in 1978, the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, TX in 1993, the 1997 California Heaven’s Gate group suicide, and many others.

Words matter. Words can cut us to the bone and labels can destroy any chance of connection we may have with another person. Even if you are referring to the genuine theological definition please stop and consider how this word might make people feel. Consider what is heard when you use this label. When I hear the word “cult”, I picture darkness, fear, coercion, abduction, suicide, murder, death, loss, powerlessness, brain-washing, evil. If we are truly seeking to share the love of Jesus Christ with our Mormon neighbors, are these the words we want them hearing us use to describe them? Are these the words that open another’s heart to our faith story? Are these the words that build bridges and fuse connections? Are these the words that open the doors to vulnerability and whole-heartedness? Are these the words that ignite receptiveness and intrigue? Do these words break down walls and allow for authentic, loving, respectful dialogue?

If someone approaches me with a label that feels like name-calling, my defenses go up, my walls get higher, my heart closes shop and there is no longer room for relationship. I am not going to hear how you love me and care for me and want to share your heart with me after you’ve insinuated that I am dark, scary, and evil. Labeling is not helpful. Relationship is helpful. Breaking bread and fellowship are helpful. Lifting others up is helpful. Loving one another, sharing each other’s story, giving context to why we believe what we believe is helpful. Pointing fingers, calling names, using words that make others feel like they have to defend who they are and what they believe is not helpful…even when you have the best of intentions.

Regardless of technical definitions, the words we use to speak to one another or about one another often carry emotional meaning, which in turn causes emotional reactions. Regardless of why you choose to use a certain term, considering how your language affects a person’s heart is more important than driving home the point you are trying to make. The words you choose matter.

With all of this being said, I also had comments from readers that have experienced what they called a “kidnapping” of a loved one by the Mormon Church. I have not experienced this with the LDS community, but I want to share my story. There are churches of all faiths and denominations that have unfit representatives who use their church to abuse power and perpetuate sin. My great aunt was preyed upon by a “pastor” of an evangelical church in rural Oklahoma. She wasn’t able to have children, so he used the hole in her heart, the vulnerability, the pain to convince her to adopt him. He has parents, a wife and kids, a church and yet he is also an adopted son of my great aunt. She uses her life savings to pay for his expensive trips, his gorgeous house, and his kid’s college tuition. As soon as she began to show signs of forgetfulness, he moved her into a nursing home and wouldn’t let her leave. My family isn’t allowed to visit her because he is now her guardian and has requested that none of us be allowed into the nursing facility to see her. It has been a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, rage-inducing, grief-stricken process to watch and live. So, please let me say that if you’ve experienced something similar I can understand, truly understand, why you would look at the religion affiliated with that person or those people who tore your family apart and feel nothing but disgust, fear, and anger towards them. The challenges for me and for anyone who has experienced something comparable to this is to (1) refrain from judging the whole lot according to the actions of a few and (2) seek the heart of Jesus who is the only one with the grace to love and forgive all people under all circumstances.

If we do witness this sort of behavior in our faith communities, we must speak up. If there are people attending a church, any church, who begin to shun their family because they practice a different faith or if there are people being “ex-communicated” for their sin, their lack of faith, their decisions, their lifestyle, their humanness, then we are called by Jesus to call this out. Jesus was not exclusionary. Jesus did not say “love those who are like you” or “love those who live up to your moral standards” or “love those who attend the same church” or “love those who never show their sin.” Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31.

In summary, if we’re going to love like Jesus and proclaim a faith in a God who is Love then we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must be cautious and caring with our words, bold in our response to injustice, forgiving of those who have hurt us, and inclusive of all of God’s image bearers! When we share our faith and our truth and our beliefs, may we do so with words of love void of judgement, words of connection void of shame, words that build bridges instead of walls and words that embrace the hearts of others in the warmth of agape love. May we always speak our truth with kindness. Words matter!

Author: Renee Tumolo

Every moment in our lives (the mundane, the outlandish, the tragic, the joyful) changes us, and we are given the opportunity to determine what that change looks like. Will I allow this event to isolate me or strengthen my relationships, destroy my self-esteem or build my confidence, give me a critical heart or create wholeheartedness, plant deep-seeded anger or facilitate love? Throughout my life I've seen time and time again that if we are willing to share our stories with openness, vulnerability, and sincerity, we are given the opportunity to offer hope in the midst of the storm, laughter on the toughest days, and most importantly...compassion and connection in a time of loneliness. This is why I write. On a lighter note, when my husband read this he laughed and said, "You're like a giant blonde Buddah."

17 thoughts on “A Lesson from my Letter to Mormons”

  1. As always filled with LOVE and thought provoking words! If more people people would step up and out to connect and understand the world would be a much more beautiful place.
    I never understood the Mormon religion and I have heard more than 1 person refer to the religion as a cult. We tend to fear what we do not know or understand, it’s human nature. The Book of Mormon should be read by all! There is a reason it was sent to us as “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” . It is the testimony of those who enountered Jesus outside of the Holy Land and it AFFIRMS the Bible. It does not doubt the Bible, contradict the Bible or negate the Bible in any way. One must wonder if the Jews believed Christians to be a cult when they moved away from the Torah and added the New Testament to the Old Testament. I am blessed to have lived inside and outside of the Mormon Church and I have encountered beautiful, spiritual people in both sides; I have also encountered the opposite.
    Love one another; AS I HAVE LOVED YOU! The words of a Savior who came to save us all. ” As I have loved you” is the part people seem to have the most difficulty with. Keep bridging the gap sweetie; as you move forward loving in the way He loved. If you change but one heart it is a life well lived!
    Love you Ne


  2. It makes me sad that it was the LDS faith that you felt seemed to be ostracizing your family. With all that is going on around the world, all the kind, good people need to unite together and build each other up. All of us together can become a positive force for good in the world. Thank you for giving us a window into your thoughts and heart. I am glad that you felt you could share this with those around you.


  3. Comment from another Roberta 🙂 As a member of the LDS Church, not living in the trifecta states of Utah/Arizona/Idaho, I appreciate you original letter and this follow-up post. I did grow up in Utah, and I 100% believe your experiences with ostracism are completely accurate. My husband grew up in SLC as a non-practicing Catholic, and ended up leaving the scouting program as a child because he was made fun of for not being LDS, and missed out on announcements that were made in church. He is completely accepting of our children being raised in that faith, if that is what they chose. That being said, I also believe that your comments were meant to be for the individual members of the church, and not the church itself. That is a big factor that people need to remember. Our experiences, both good and bad, are because of people. The church itself is not an entity and cannot harm anyone. I have worked hard to raise my four children to be loving, accepting individuals no matter what. The solution is simple: God loves each and every one of us AS WE ARE, and our actions towards others should be as His would be. SO now my long comment is over, and I for one appreciate your candor and humility in sharing your thoughts and experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi sweet lady! I’m LDS and a convert to the religion. I dont have a way with words but what you said bout the missionaries and you children was very well said…growing up in Idaho I was always included in the Mormon activities and even went to Seminary though I grew up a Christian Sciencetist… there is always those kids that pick on you and are rude or bullying but I do know we, in Texas now; have always taught our children to love every religion and my 3 Friends (I consider my best of friends! ) 2 are neighbors they are catholic Methodist and Assembly of God. I would love to be your friend too! I’m so sorry your husband and you grew up feeling that way but I have never been to a meeting where we speak ill of other religions we are actually taught to love all people and religions. Feel free to correspond anytime with me! I know you are a child of God as I am and I can honestly say there is nobody in this world I hate… its and awful word and so much stronger than adults and children realize. I love you as a child of God, as a Sister! Thank you for wanting to be friends with all of Gods children that’s what it’s all about! Your friend Lorie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lorie, thank you so much for reaching out and for your kind words! Thank you for your love and acceptance! Thank you for being a friend! I’m sending you lots of love! God bless!
      Renee’ Tumolo


  5. Renee, I just finished reading your letter that I found posted on LDS Living. I am LDS and on behalf of all my LDS neighbors I apologize that you and your family were made to feel not “included”. I have friends that felt the same way growing up. I so appreciated reading your letter! I hope that we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints can do a much better job of loving and including our neighbors in our lives. You are right. We are all God’s children and we need to love, help and appreciate each other. Thank you for that plea and reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kerry thank you for reading my letter and for your loving response! I continue to work on being more inclusive in my every day life as well. Sending you love! God bless!


  6. Thank you! We are not a cult, and the word cult is usually used to attack and create fear among members and non-members alike. It’s dishonest to use the word cult, and it hurts my heart every time I hear it. To your friend that has come to Utah to correct everyone, I would encourage her to be upfront and honest with her neighbors and friends about her intentions. That is the only way to create true relationships, and as it is the only honest way, I would say it is the Savior’s way as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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