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Pastor Robert Jeffress

A prominent Texas pastor introduced Rick Perry at a Washington, D.C. conference Friday as “a genuine follower of Jesus Christ,” then met with reporters and stated the standard evangelical position that Mitt Romney’s Mormon Church is a cult.

As if such a controversy had not existed before, the New York Times, reported:

The comments by the pastor, Robert Jeffress of Dallas, injected a potentially explosive issue into the presidential campaign: the belief held by many evangelicals that Mormons are not Christians.

The Times then attempted to blame Jeffress’ comments on Perry — guilt by association. Times reporters Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Erik Eckholm wrote that Jeffress raised their “immediate suspicions that the attack might have been a way for surrogates or supporters of Perry, the Texas governor, who has stumbled in recent weeks, to gain ground by raising religious concerns about Romney. Jeffress similarly attacked Romney and his faith during the 2008 campaign.”

Oppel and Eckholm then inferred that they did not believe comments from Perry’s campaign that “the governor ‘does not believe Mormonism is a cult’ and that 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.”

In fact, the Times noted that the Family Research Council president, Tony Perkins, had said the Perry campaign approved using Jeffress to introduce the governor: “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.”

The Times then objected that aides to Perry “did not respond to a number of questions, including whether he was aware of Jeffress’s record of calling the Mormon Church a ‘cult’ and denying Romney’s Christianity; whether he has ever talked with Jeffress about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and the nature of their relationship.”

In other words, the Perry campaign didn’t have anything to say on the topic.

Nor did Perry “bring up religion on Friday night as he addressed a Republican dinner in Iowa. Asked by a reporter whether he believed the Mormon faith was a cult, Perry said, ‘No.’ Asked whether he repudiated the remarks of the pastor, he said, ‘I’ve already answered your question.’

Jeffress’ comments that Mormonism is a cult were made out in a hallway when reporters asked the preacher to clarify his statement that Perry was a “genuine” Christian. According to National Public Radio:

Talking to a group of reporters in the hallway, he was asked to clarify what he was saying about Romney. He said Romney isn’t a Christian. On multiple occasions in that exchange, he called Mormonism a cult. Then, on CNN, he repeated himself.

“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,” he said.

Romney was not at the Values Voter Summit Friday; he speaks Saturday. Attendees come from conservative evangelicals who have long been suspicious of Romney on social issues.

Was Jeffress put up it by the Perry campaign? The Times didn’t attempt to prove anything, but was suspicious:

The depth of the relationship between Perry and Jeffress, a Southern Baptist, was unclear, though the governor seemed to indicate some familiarity when he took the stage after being introduced. He called Jeffress “quite a leader” and noted that he had a church with 10,000 parishioners. He also praised Jeffress’s introduction, saying he “knocked it out of the park.”

Almost begrudgingly, the Times admitted:

Those comments by Perry were made before Jeffress attacked Romney’s religion. In his comments to reporters after his introduction, Jeffress said he had not discussed Romney’s religion with Perry and had no idea what he thinks.

 

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