On Friday afternoon, at a meeting of the annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., Texas Governor Rick Perry found himself involved in a controversy not of his own doing. Instead it was the man who introduced him to the evangelical audience that brought the controversy on to Rick Perry.
At around 2:30 in the afternoon, in his introduction of Perry, Southern Baptist Convention leader Robert Jeffress, who recently endorsed the Governor, described Perry as “the most pro-life governor in the United States of America.” He also touched upon the gaffes made by Perry in the last debate by saying, “do we want a candidate whois skilled in rhetoric, or one who is skilled in leadership?”. He went on to call him “a committed follower of Christ.”
But 45 minutes later, when speaking to reporters, Jeffress told reporters that Mormonism is a “cult” and that voting for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney would “give credibility to a cult”. He also stated that he endorsed Perry only as an individual, and that he would not tell his church members how to vote. But he further stated that he is planning to give a sermon this Sunday in which he talks about “how a Christian should vote.” Jeffress added that among the criteria is that the person they vote for be a Christian.
According to a live blogger at the summit reporting for the Washington Post, Jeffress also told reporters that many evangelicals were afraid to talk about Mormonism but would have a hard time voting for a Mormon candidate.
At the same time Jeffress also confessed that as a pastor he was “not nearly as concerned about a candidate’s record on fiscal issues or immigration issues” as he is with their social conservative bona fides.
That however is a view which contradicts the political realities of the 2012 election. And as demonstrated by the highly motivated TEA movement, is not the most important aspect that they are seeking in a candidate. In fact for many of them, it is just the opposite. They are looking more for a Republican candidate who while having moral values, will stay out of people’s personal lives.
That fact was not missed by Governor Perry. For he delivered a speech that focused less on faith and more on his record of job creation.
Despite the fact that the group he was addressing was gathered together to celebrate the fundamentals of the Christian faith and socially conservative values, Perry chose to make the point that he was running on a message of economic recovery. Such was most likely a tactical campaign decision based on an attempt to not allow rivals to paint him as a religious fanatic who would take the same priorities as Jeffress, to
Washington in 2013.
Ironically though, the remarks made by Jeffress did little to help his endorsed presidential candidate. In fact, Jeffress only did more to hurt Perry.
Evangelicals have no problem with Rick Perry. They know all that Jeffress tried to convey to them about Perry at the Values Voters Summit. However, Perry will have a problem with voters who are leery of having a President focused more on social issues than the economic and foreign affairs issues that the office of President was designed to addressed and which are in desperate need of being addressed properly. For those people, Jeffress did little to win over any converts to Perry. And at the same time, he pushed a very sensitive button regarding religious tolerance and bigotry.
But Jeffress is probably less concerned with getting Rick Perry elected than he is with selling a new book that he has coming out.
For his part, after Jeffress made his off the cuff remarks, Rick Perry had his campaign distanced the him from Jeffress. They noted that it was the organizers of Values Voters Summit that chose Jeffress to introduce the Texas governor, not the campaign. However it was later confirmed that Perry approved of having Jeffress introduce him. Based upon Jeffress’ longstanding and well publicized history of religious intolerance, Rick Perry should never have allowed Jeffress to have the opportunity to be an representative of Perry’s supporters. Allowing Jeffress to introdcue him was indeed a big mistake. Either that or Perry does not see much wrong with Jeffress’ intolernace and bigotry.
Perry spokesman Robert Black did released a statement that read “The governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult. He is not in the business of judging people. That’s God’s job.”
Whether that is true or not, no one can’t know for sure. All we can do is take Perry at his word. But interestingly enough the words that Jeffress speak do happen to be suspiciously scripted.
According to CBS, during Jeffress’ post Perry speech comments, he claimed “I did not talk about my Mormon views” with Perry, and added, “I’m not insinuating that the governor shares those at all — he may not.” described himself as only an acquaintance of Perry’s. “I did not talk about my Mormon views” with Perry. He continued, “I’m not insinuating that the governor shares those at all — he may not.”
Jeffress then said the following words which rang some alarm bells with me;
“I haven’t gone coyote hunting with him,”.
They were the very same seemingly unrehearsed words he spoke in an MSNBC interview on August 14th [see the interview below] . Personally, it sounds to me as though there is a lot more coordination between Jeffress and Perry’s campaign than some are willing to admit.
In another interview, this one on Fox News Live, back in June of this year, Jeffress expressed his disappointment in Mike Huckabee’s decision not to run for President. He also stated that without Huckabee in the race, Chrsitians may be faced with having to hold their noses and vote for the lesser of two evils. Jeffress then claimed to being non-partisan and then professed that he is only concerned with “the next President being committed to eliminating the tide of un-Godliness and evil that is sweeping our country”. He even admits “while Romney may make a good President”, but adds, “we better understand that if we vote for Mitt Romney we are not voting for a Christian”.
Observe the video for yourself. I believe you will find this religious leader to be preaching a level bigotry that is so obvious, that is actually offensive. I can only say that thank God most true Chrsitians are not as ignorant, bigotted, and intolerant as Robert Jeffress is. And when I write “intolerant”, I do not mean it in the politically correct sense which is to deny the truth. I mean it in the sense of trying to defy logic and closing doors based upon perceptions, not actual facts.
The only way for Rick Perry to really nip this in the bud is to do more than distance himself from Jefresss. In many ways this could be Rick Perry’s Jeremiah Wright moment. That is why Perry needs to denounce Jeffress for his prejudices and defend Mitt Romney for having what may be religious differences but are most certainly Christian values. If he does do not do so, Mitt Romney could turn what initially seems to be a relatively minor verbal hiccups, into a major issue that he could turn around to his advantage.
In this day and age, for Americans to hold prejudices against a political leader because of their faith, is nothing other than an example of backwards thinking and a contradiction to the very constitutional principles that the G.O.P. is trying to stress the need for our nation to return to.
As for Robert Jeffress, I am sorry to say this, but he is an ass.
I say so not neccessarily because of his beliefs but because of his obvious insincerity and the mixed messages that he as a religious leader, sends. Personally, I think he is more concerned with selling his new book than he is with either whom our next President is, or Jesus.
But how does Mitt Romney feel about it all? We may get the chance to find that out on Saturday, when Mitt is scheduled to address the Values Voters Summit himself. His approach to the evangelicals gathered there will be quite interesting, especially in light of the assault made upon him and his faith by Perry supporter Robert Jeffries.
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