An influential evangelical pastor threw his support behind Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry during the Values Voter Summit Friday, drawing a distinction between Perry, a “follower of Christ,” and that other candidate, Mormon Mitt Romney.
As he introduced Perry, Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 10,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, said:
“When the smoke clears in several months, those of us who are evangelical Christians are going to have a choice to make, and the choice is going to be this. . . . Do we want someone who is a conservative out of convenience or one who is a conservative out of conviction? Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or one who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ? Rick Perry is a proven leader,a true conservative and a committed follower of Christ.”
Jeffress never mentioned Romney’s name or said the word Mormon, but he did not have to.
During Romney’s 2008 run for the GOP nomination, Jeffress preached against Mormonism in a sermon: “Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and Savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult.”
Romney’s Mormonism may be one of his greatest political liabilities. Religion pollster and On Faith blogger Robert P. Jones noted this week:
“In the Public Religion Research Institute’s July PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey, nearly four-in-10 Americans (43 percent) perceived that Romney’s religious beliefs were different than their own. And in August, PRRI found that four-in-10 (41 percent) Americans say they do not consider the Mormon faith to be a Christian religion. Notably, among white evangelical Protestants. . . that number rises to nearly six-in-10 (57 percent).
Still, there is some hope for the Latter-day Saint candidate for the nation’s highest office. More Republicans than Democrats support Mormons in the role of presidency, and although Jeffress and other Christian leaders have criticized Romney’s faith, in recent months other Christian organizations and conservative activists have made the case for supporting a Mormon candidate. Earlier this week, Pat Robertson called Mitt Romney an “outstanding Christian,” which Jones said “signals (to conservatives) that Romney’s faith is not so different from that of the white evangelical Protestants who form a strong core of the Republican base.”