Google's quick answers described Mormonism as a cult on Monday.
The quick answer — which is a small info box generated by Google — showed up as the top (non-ad) result when searching the phrase "is Mormonism a cult?" It announced that "Yes, Mormonism is a cult, a non-Christian cult because Mormonism denies essential biblical teachings and adds new, false doctrines."
The information used to generate the quick answer evidently came from a website called CARM, or Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.
The website is critical of Mormonism — or, officially, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — but also discusses other religions such as Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman Catholicism, and others.
Mormonism was unique among religions for both having a quick answer, and for being described as a cult. Similar searches of other religions simply produced traditional results. For example, Catholicism:
Parody religion The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster:
Similar results turned up after searches for Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, and several different branches of Christianity. Google didn't even produce cult-themed quick answers for some actual, legit cults:
By about 11:45 p.m. PT Monday night the results were changed and Google was no longer describing Mormonism as a cult:
In a statement issued to BuzzFeed Tuesday, Google apologized for the quick answer and explained that such results are generated automatically:
Last night we removed an offensive quick answer about Mormonism. Quick answers sometimes appear on the top of search results, and are produced automatically based on a number of factors. We're sorry for any offense this answer may have caused.
Google did not offer additional details about how the quick answer was created or how long it was included in search results.
Being called a cult is a touchy subject in Mormonism.
Mormons strongly object to being called a cult, and the church itself has said the "label is usually applied by Church opponents attempting to criticize or discredit the Church." Others have called Mormonism a cult due to "lack of understanding."
Still, critics of the church argue that Mormonism's unusual take on traditional Christian doctrines — things like the Trinity, the Bible, prophets, etc. — make it sufficiently divergent to qualify as a cult. The church counters that it accepts Jesus and is therefore a Christian religion.
Sometimes this debate boils onto the national state. Most notably, in 2011 Rev. Robert Jeffress called Mormonism a cult during the Republican presidential primary. Jeffress, a Rick Perry supporter, also said that Romney was "not a Christian." The comments caused a stir at the time and were widely seen as a jab at Romney. They also led Perry to distance himself from Jeffress.