These days on the campaign trail poor Rick Perry just can’t seem to catch a break. The presidential hopeful spoke at the Values Voter Summit, a social gathering of hundreds of conservatives in Washington, on Friday, however the evangelical pastor who introduced him stole the show, sparking a controversy in the process. The Texas pastor introduced Rick Perry at the major conference of Christian conservatives as “a genuine follower of Jesus Christ” and then walked outside and attacked Mitt Romney’s religion, calling the Mormon Church a cult and stating that Mr. Romney “is not a Christian.”
Jeffress praised Rick Perry for defunding Planned Parenthood in Texas, calling the provider of women’s health and abortion services, “that slaughterhouse for the unborn.” He also lauded Perry’s “strong commitment to biblical values.”
Jeffress’ comments and his backing of Perry threaten to inject some tension into what has been a relatively quiet year for religion on the campaign trail and the Perry campaign sought to ease the growing uproar.
This raised immediate suspicions that the attack might have been a way for surrogates or supporters of Mr. Perry, the Texas governor, who has stumbled in recent weeks, to gain ground by raising religious concerns about Mr. Romney. The campaign’s official comment on Jeffress changed quickly on Friday afternoon. When initially asked by ABC News whether Gov. Perry agreed that Mormonism is a cult, Perry spokesman Mark Miner said: “The governor doesn’t judge what is in the heart and soul of others. He leaves that to God.”
Back in 2007, Jeffress had this to say about Romney: “Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult.” In 2008, Jeffress asserted that Mormons worship ”false” god and said: “I believe we should always support a Christian over a non-Christian.”
The Perry campaign sought to put some space between Mr. Perry and Mr. Jeffress, stating that the governor “does not believe Mormonism is a cult” and that Mr. Jeffress was chosen to speak by the organizers of the event, the Values Voter Summit, which was put on by the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and other evangelical Christian groups. A Romney spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Jeffress’ remarks.
While refuting that his comments were coordinated with the Perry campaign, Mr. Jeffress said he emphatically believed that Mr. Romney’s faith would spell trouble for him with many Republican voters and make it hard for him to win in Iowa, as well as South Carolina and other Bible Belt states.
He also said that he believed Mr. Romney is a “good, moral person,” and that he would endorse him over the president. If it comes to that, he said, “I’m going to instruct, I’m going to advise people that it is much better to vote for a non-Christian who embraces biblical values than to vote for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces un-biblical values.” Looks like things are starting to heat up as the year winds to a close. These next few weeks on the campaign trail should be very interesting to say the least.