When Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress introduced Rick Perry at Friday's Values Voter summit in Washington, he praised the Texas governor as a man with a "strong committment to Biblical values." Just a short while later, he ripped into Perry's top rival for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of belonging to a "cult"—Mormonism.
Speaking to a gaggle of reporters shortly after finishing up an interivew with the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer—who himself has slammed Romney for his Mormon faith—Jeffress explained that to him, beating Barack Obama is a "spiritual issue." "I really am not nearly as concerned about a candidate's fiscal policy or immigration policy as I am where they stand on what I believe are Biblical issues. And that's why I'm endorsing Governor Perry." That's not especially surprising. Here's what he said, though, when asked by the Dallas Morning-News's Wayne Slater about Romney's faith:
That is not some right-wing fringe view that Mormonism is a cult. The Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest protestant denomination in the world, has labeled Mormonism is a cult. So that is a mainstream view that Mormonism is a cult. And again I believe Mitt Romney is a good, moral, family person. But he's not a born-again follower of Christ. And I said to my congregation last Sunday night, I quoted John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Jay said we as Christians have both a duty and a privilage to prefer to elect Christians as our leaders, and I believe every true born-again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.
Asked if he personally considered Mormonism a cult, Jeffress was insistent: "Yes!" I've posted audio of the exchange below, with the Mormon discussion picking up at around the 1:50 mark:
Jeffress' views should have been no secret to the Texas Governor. The pastor had long been on the record in opposition to the LDS church, whose members Jeffress says "worship a false God." At Values Voter, Perry said that Jeffress' endorsement speech, which intimated that Perry was the only true Christian in the race, "knocked it out of the park." Jeffress, for his part, defended his comments by suggesting that he was merely speaking for the silent majority of Evangelical voters: "I think there are a lot of Christian voters who don't want to appear bigoted, and so what they say to the pollsters is not necessarily what they'll do in the privacy of the polling booth," he said. "And I frankly believe if Gov. Romney is the nominee, I believe Barack Obama will be the next president."
Perry spokesman Robert Black told Politico that "the governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult," and Perry "is not in the business of judging people." Meanwhile, for Romney, things don't get any easier: He'll be followed on stage on Saturday by Fischer, who has said that Mormons are not true Christians and are not guaranteed First Amendment rights.