The Republican debate over Mormonism officially broke into the open this afternoon. From the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON — The pastor who introduced Texas Gov. Rick Perry at a conservative gathering Friday said rival presidential candidate Mitt Romney is not a Christian and is in a cult because he is a Mormon.
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, endorsed Perry at the Values Voters Summit, introducing him as “a proven leader, a true conservative, and a committed follower of Christ.”
After his remarks, Jeffress told reporters that Perry’s religion is different from Romney’s.
“Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ,” Jeffress said. “Mitt Romney’s a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”
Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are commonly called Mormons.
Perry disavowed Jeffress’ statements. But they could hardly have been a surprise — Jeffress had said much the same thing four years ago. After the 2008 presidential election, in which Romney lost the Republican nomination to John McCain, the Religion Newswriters Association hosted a debate on this very topic.
The two participants were Jay Sekulow, a well-known metro Atlanta lawyer and Christian fundamentalist — and Jeffress.
The sponsor of the event was the DeMoss Group of Buckhead. Mark DeMoss served as Romney’s liaison to evangelicals in ’08, and is part of the current Romney campaign. Jeffress had the first word in the discussion:
“I believe, first of all, that Christians ought to prefer Christians over non-Christians as their leaders.…A Christian politician who says his faith has no influence on his public policy is either a dishonest politician or a superficial Christian….
“The value of electing a Christian goes beyond the public policies that he or she may enact. We believe that a genuine Christian has a relationship with God, is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, is led by the spirit of God, and is uniquely favored by God. Even if that genuine believer does not embrace every position we hold important, we still believe that we make a grave mistake in underestimating the value of having a Christian in office….”
Then came Sekulow:
”If Mitt Romney was running against Jimmy Carter, would you support Jimmy Carter because he’s a born-again Christian? I find that premise to be troubling.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider