Pastor says Romney is not a Christian

Posted Saturday, Oct. 08, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

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WASHINGTON -- Gov. Rick Perry got an enthusiastic response Friday to a speech at the Values Voter Summit from the conservative base voters he lays claim to, but he was overshadowed by the Dallas preacher who introduced him and who later told reporters that Perry's rival Mitt Romney belongs to a cult and is not a Christian.

The Rev. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas, endorsed Perry at the event and introduced him as "a proven leader, a true conservative, and a committed follower of Christ."

The fiery preacher, whose church has more than 10,000 members, praised Perry as having a "strong commitment to biblical values" including the "sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage."

"Do we want a candidate who is skilled in rhetoric or one who is skilled in leadership?" Jeffress said. "Do we want a candidate who is a conservative out of convenience or one who is a conservative out of deep conviction? Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person -- or one who is a born-again follower of the lord Jesus Christ?"

The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and when Perry took the stage, he said of Jeffress, "He knocked it out of the park, as we like to say."

After Perry's speech, Jeffress met with reporters in the hallway and contrasted Perry's religion with Romney's.

"Rick Perry's a Christian. He's an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ," Jeffress said. "Mitt Romney's a good moral person, but he's not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity."

The pastor said Romney "is not somebody I would vote for, nor would I encourage evangelical Christians to vote for" in the GOP primary."

"Mitt Romney may make a great president, he may be a good person, but if you vote for him, don't be under the illusion that you're voting for a Christian."

Asked whether he would vote for Romney in a general election against President Barack Obama, he responded, "I'd hold my nose and vote for Mitt Romney because I believe a non-Christian who embraces Christian principles is more palatable than a Christian ... who governs by unbiblical principles."

Perry's campaign said he does not agree.

Asked by reporters Friday night in Tiffin, Iowa, whether Mormonism is a cult, Perry replied, "No."

Spokesman Mark Miner said that "the governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult."

"He doesn't agree with everything that people he meets say," Miner said. "The governor is a man of faith, there's no secret about that. The governor meets with people of all faiths."

Perry's speech was a crowd-pleaser.

"The answer to our troubles lies in a positive, optimistic vision, with policies rooted in American exceptionalism," Perry said.

"See, American exceptionalism is the product of unlimited freedom. And there is nothing troubling our nation today that cannot be solved by the rebirth of freedom - nothing."

Perry's biggest moment with the crowd came when he talked about his record against abortion, saying that "as governor I have consistently worked for pro-life legislation, policies such as parental consent for minors seeking an abortion. ... And I'm proud to fight for and was proud to sign a budget that defunded Planned Parenthood in Texas."

This report includes material from The Associated Press and the Houston Chronicle.

Maria Recio is the Star-Telegram's Washington bureau chief. 202-383-6103

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