(selected sections from original article below - emphasis added)
Deciding who is a cultist and who is a legitimate believer is more often a matter of politics than of theology or psychology. This is what the writer Thomas Wolfe meant in saying that “a cult is a religion with no political power.” Witness the vehement denunciations of Mormonism during the 2008 election from the religious right, which all but disappeared during this cycle, when a Romney victory appeared much more likely. The fact that Jeffress ultimately endorsed Romney after labeling him a cultist perfectly illustrates the political nature of the slur, as does the sudden interest in the issue exhibited by Sullivan, who happens to be a staunch supporter of President Obama.
Ultimately, calling a religion a cult is a cowardly act, because the vagueness of the word provides plausible deniability to any who use it. While Sullivan or Jeffress may say they use the word in a specialized, limited sense, for the average person it evokes images of federal agents surrounding the Branch Davidians in Waco, not of a vibrant, growing religion some 14 million strong. If Sullivan does not intend to equate Mormons with brainwashed sycophants in a suicide pact, he should choose a less inflammatory word—one that actually means what he is trying to say.
While Joseph Smith still has his critics today, the teachings he left the LDS Church are fundamentally inconsistent with mind control or religious coercion. One of his more enduring revelations remains at the heart of LDS teaching on leading in the Church, warning that “[n]o power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” There are easier ways to brainwash people than through long-suffering and meekness.