Evangelicals left no doubt where they stood on Mormonism at the Value Voters Summit yesterday. Tony Perkins, organizer of the event and head of the Family Research Council had Pastor Robert Jeffress introduce Rick Perry. And while his opening remarks merely hinted at his own unease and distrust of Mormonism, he was far more explicit in his denunciations later, as the video from Rightwingwatch.org makes plain.
His interview with John King on CNN left no doubt where he stands, and has stood for years as an influential representative for Southern Baptists: Mormons are not Christians, they're members of a cult.
It should be noted that Mitt Romney also attended the event and spoke a few hours after Rick Perry. Whether Jeffress' opinion is the prevailing one there seems likely, but I couldn't say for sure. What is certain though is that Mitt Romney has no problem pandering to any and all republican voters who can cast a ballot.
Rightwingwatch.org has more.
Following his endorsement and introduction of Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit, Robert Jeffress went on Focal Point with Bryan Fischer to chastise Romney's Mormon faith, arguing that he is not a "true, born again follower of Christ." He said that only Perry can defeat "the most pro-homosexual, most pro-abortion president in history."
"It is not Christianity, it is not a branch of Christianity," Jeffress said, "It is a cult." Jeffress went on to explain that many evangelical Christians will not vote for Romney because he is a Mormon and therefore not "indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God." He even claimed that Romney's Mormon faith "speaks to the integrity issue" as it explains why he has reversed his position on abortion rights, among other issues.
Transcript from CNN below.
KING: It was in a conversation with reporters after that Dr. Jeffress used the term cult. Jeffress is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. He is with us now from this event.
Dr. Jeffress, you have had this opinion for some time, your criticism of the Mormon Church, but you came today to a political event, an event that is very, very important to Governor Perry who has been stumbling in the polls of late, and you dropped this, what I'm going to call a bomb, going after Governor Romney, why?
JEFFRESS: Well, first of all, as you noted, John, I did not refer to Mormonism as a cult in my opening introduction of Governor Perry.
And I want to make it very clear that Governor Perry had no knowledge ahead of time of what I was going to say. However, this is not an unusual view, John, that Mormonism is not Christianity.
Historical Christianity has never embraced Mormonism as a part of its faith. In fact, for many years, the Southern Baptist Convention did label it on its official Web site as a cult. That's not saying that Mitt Romney's a bad person. I think he's a good person, a moral person, but he dent embrace the historical tenets of evangelical Christianity.
But I also want to say, John, there are plenty more reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney other than his religious faith. And I think conservative have plenty of reasons, leaving Mormonism out of it, not to be energized by a Mitt Romney candidacy.
KING: But you understand the moment, sir. Governor Perry has been struggling, and you came to endorse him today as an individual, to introduce him today. You say you had no conversations with the Perry campaign at all about what you were going to say?
JEFFRESS: No, none at all. I was a guest here of the Family Research Council, not of Governor Perry.
KING: And so you're speaking to reporters after and you say voting for Romney would give credibility to a cult. There are 16 million Southern Baptists in the United States, so your church has 10,000 members. There are 16 million Southern Baptists.
Are you saying, as a preacher in a church that those 16 million people worship in, that they would be giving credibility to a cult if they vote for Governor Romney?
JEFFRESS: Well, I have also said, John, that given the choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, I would vote for Mitt Romney. I think it is much better for those of us who are evangelical Christians to have a non-Christian who embraces biblical values in the White House than to have a professing Christian like Barack Obama who addresses and embraces un-biblical positions.
And so, while I am hesitant and would be at this stage, when we can choose a Christian candidate for office, I do think there may come a time when it's going to be the lesser of two evils. And so I would not say under no circumstances would I vote for Mitt Romney.
But it was John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, who said we have the duty and privilege to vote and select Christians as our leaders. And again, Mitt Romney's a good, moral person, but he doesn't embrace historical Christianity. And frankly I'm not sure why that's news. That has been the position of evangelical Christians for a long time.
KING: It has been, sir, but it's news that you did this at this event at this moment in time.
You said you would if faced with a choice between President Obama, the incumbent, and Mitt Romney, were he to win the nomination, you would vote for Mitt Romney. But you know at this very moment Governor Perry has stumbled a bit and this was an event that was a stepping stone back from his perspective.
And you decided right now to try to stop Mitt Romney, didn't you?
JEFFRESS: No, that's not true. I was asked personally in a conference after my introduction about why I personally would be hesitant to vote for a Mormon, and I gave a very honest answer, that I felt like it would give credibility to a non-Christian religion. That was me personally.