It's popular for folks to call Mormonism a cult. It's not really true in either sociological or theological usage.
If you want to talk about a "cult," it just makes more sense to talk about the new religious groups with charismatic leaders who exercise lots of intricate control over the lives of adherents, and separate them from their families. The word itself comes from the Latin word for worship and adoration. In scholarship, words and phrases like "cult of the Saints" or "cult of the Mass" or "the cultic practices of the ancient Christian church" are not pejorative, but rather descriptive. "Cult" simply refers to the things done in worship. As a matter of fact, would you like to read about the cultic practice of my own church? Here it is. How about of the Church of England? Immanuel Baptist Church?
I suspect that Mormonism can be more properly thought of as a heretical offshoot of Christianity, like prosperity preachers or "oneness Pentecostalism." It has very little in common with Christianity, but it shares some cultic practices (ahem) some bits of common vocabulary. Does calling it a "heretical offshoot" make me sound any more generous or less bigoted than if I called it a "cult"? Probably not, but it's more accurate, and I think that's good enough for me.
More on this next time...