In a press conference to announce that he had won the support of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney made another bit of news. He called on his presidential rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, to repudiate Pastor Robert Jeffress’ belief that Mormonism is a “cult.”
Jeffress endorsed Perry at last weekend’s Values Voter summit, an event organized by the Christian conservative Family Research Council, and introduced the governor. He went on to tell reporters that he did not believe Romney to be a Christian and that Mormonism is a “cult.”
“I would call upon Gov. Perry to repudiate the sentiment and the comments made by that pastor,” Romney said. He alleged that Perry had “selected” Jeffress for his introduction at the summit.
The Texas governor’s campaign put out a statement shortly afterwards saying “Romney should repudiate government-mandated health-care.”
Perry’s team says that the organizers made the choice, but according to Family Research Council president Tony Perkins the campaign signed off on Jeffress.
"Pastor Jeffress was suggested to us as a possible introductory speaker because he serves as pastor of one of the largest churches in Texas,” Perkins said. “We sent the request to the Perry campaign which then signed off on the request.”
Christie backed Romney up, comparing Jeffress to those who protested Christie’s appointment of a Muslim judge.
“These type of religious matters have nothing to do with the quality of somebody's ability to lead," Christie said. “Any campaign that associates itself with that type of conduct is beneath the office of president of the United States.”
Romney was introduced at the same summit by Jay Sekulow, a conservative legal activist who has argued that Christie was wrong about the threat of sharia law to the U.S. Constitution.
Perry has distanced himself from Jeffress, remarks but has not disavowed the pastor. His campaign responded to the controversy by saying the Texas governor does not agree that Mormonism is a cult, but that he “doesn’t judge what is in the heart and soul of others.”