Mormonism Back On GOP, Media Radar With Pastor's 'Cult' Remark

The Mormon religion, and the dim view of it held by so many evangelical Protestants, has mostly been below the radar so far in the 2012 presidential race.

That was until Friday when a megachurch preacher who introduced Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the audience at the Values Voter Summit being held in Washington, D.C. described Mormonism as "a cult" to journalists in attendance.

Rev. Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas opened a closet that had stayed pretty much closed until now when he told reporters outside the ballroom where he endorsed Perry:

"The decision for conservative evangelical Christians right now is going to be do we prefer somebody who is truly a believer of Jesus Christ or somebody who is a good moral person but he's a part of a cult. And it's not politically correct to say but it's true. Mormonism is a cult.

"And for those reasons, and besides Gov. Romney's lack of consistency on social issues, I think Rick Perry is the most electable choice."

Some might have thought that with the election of a President Obama, an African-American, that the breaking of the racial barrier would have made the Mormonism passe. Clearly, they would have been wrong.

Romney's Mormon faith was such a significant issue in 2008 that Romney had to give a speech to try and put minds at ease about his Mormonism. It was reminiscent of John F. Kennedy's 1960 address in which he explained to Protestant ministers that, if elected president, he wouldn't be taking his marching orders from the pope.

Jeffress comments apparently caught the Perry campaign off-guard, judging by its shifting response.

As ABC News reported:

Jeffress' comments and his endorsement of Perry threatened to inject some tension into what has been a relatively quiet year for religion on the campaign trail and the Perry campaign sought to quiet the uproar.

The campaign's official comment on Jeffress evolved 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."

Miner would also not immediately say whether the governor believed it was wrong to call Mormonism a cult. "It's not his decision to judge that," the spokesman said. He added that conference organizers decided who should introduce Perry at the summit, not the campaign.

But minutes later, Miner called ABC News with a new statement: "He does not believe it is a cult."

All of a sudden, like he needs another problem, Perry has been forced into the uncomfortable position of either coming out with a strong denunciation of Jeffress, which could upset many of the evangelical Christians he's counting on to give him a strong showing in Iowa and South Carolina. Or not.

If he doesn't denounce the Dallas pastor. Coming hard on the heels after the story of the rock with the racial epithet at the hunting lodge he once leased, it would seem like he doesn't have much of a choice.

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