There is something interesting, if a little troubling, going on in the Republican Party.
At the Values Voter Summit Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, who introduced Rick Perry, told the media that Mormonism is a cult. On this we can probably agree. At the very least, Mormonism is not Christian.
But Jefress went on to say that Christians have a duty to reject competent Mormon candidates in favor of competent Christian ones. On this point, I am not sure I agree. For clarity’s sake, he is exactly what he said.
You described it as a cult and you said that if a Republican votes for Mitt Romney, they’re giving some credibility to a cult. Do you stand by that comment?
DR. ROBERT JEFFRESS, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF DALLAS: Oh, absolutely. And that’s not some fanatical comment. That’s been the historic position of evangelical Christianity. The Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in the world, has officially labeled Mormonism as a cult.
I think Mitt Romney’s a good, moral man, but I think those of us who are born-again followers of Christ should always prefer a competent Christian to a competent – to a competent non-Christian like Mitt Romney.
So that’s why I’m enthusiastic about Perry.
ACOSTA: But what do you say to those voters who say that religion as Mormonism shouldn’t be an issue in this campaign? He’s just as American as anyone else.
JEFFRESS: I agree he’s just as American as anyone else. And Article Six of the Constitution –
ACOSTA: And Mormons do say they are Christians. They say that. They believe in Jesus Christ.
JEFFRESS: A lot of people say they’re Christians and they’re not, but they do not embrace historical Christianity. And I, again, believe that as Christians, we have the duty to prefer and select Christians as our leaders. That’s what John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court said.
And again, when I think we’ve got a choice, as Evangelicals, between a Rick Perry and a Mitt Romney, I believe Evangelicals need to go with Rick Perry.
Now Catholic Bill Bennett, addressing the summit criticized Jefress and urged the crowd not to give into bigotry.
Bennett responded today by exhorting the crowd, “Do not give voice to bigotry.” Furthermore, Bennett addressed his comments to Jeffress directly, saying. “You did Perry no good, sir,” and accused him of stepping on the other candidates as well. Bennett then joked that, as a Catholic, he can argue that he had it right the longest, to plenty of good-natured laughter.
I agree wholeheartedly with Bennett when he says Jefress did Perry no good. This is a most unwelcome distraction. And while I do not agree that Christians *must* choose a Christian over a Mormon, I also do not agree with Bennett that this necessarily constitutes bigotry.
I think that we must evaluate candidates on their positions, their experience, and their demonstrated judgment. In the area of judgment, I think it is reasonable to factor in a candidates religious beliefs. If a candidate held all the right positions and had loads of experience, but was also a Wiccan, I can assure you this would cause me to call into question their judgment.
That said, I don’t think its axiomatic that someone who was born into Mormonism and who has not left it has demonstrated such poor judgment that it disqualifies him. That said, the fact that just ten years ago he proudly claimed to be pro-choice may.
Jefress did Perry no good in bringing up and phrasing the issue the way he did. Conversely, I don’t think that Bennett is doing the party any good by claiming all such opposition based on religion is “giving into bigotry.”
Judgment matters. In choosing candidates and choosing religions.