This afternoon, Rick Perry was introduced by the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church Dallas, who lauded him as “a candidate who is a proven leader, a true conservative, and a committed follower of Christ.”
After Perry’s speech, Jeffress spoke with a group of reporters, who questioned him about previous statements he’d made about Mormonism. Jeffess stated, unequivocally, that he believes, as does the Southern Baptist Convention, that Mormonism is a “cult.” He framed the current GOP primary race as one between Perry and Mitt Romney (who speaks here tomorrow), and the most important goal as unseating Obama. If Romney is a nominee, Jeffress contended, Obama will win reelection because evangelicals will stay home.
The view that Mormonism is a cult, Jeffress continued, “is not a right-wing fringe” view, but “a mainstream view.” (He cited the Southern Baptist Convention’s position as proof.)
There is no constitutional religious test for president, Jeffress admitted, but voters can impose such a test themselves. He described Romney as a “fine family person” but that “a lot of good people can be misled.”
Jeffress insisted that “only belief in Jesus Christ will get you to heaven,” and dismissed my question about whether he understood that Mormons did believe in Jesus Christ as their savior. “Mormons embrace another gospel,” he said, that is why “they have never been considered by evangelical Christians to be part of the Christian family.”
UPDATE 10/8/11: This morning, radio host Bill Bennett (who is Catholic) called out Jeffress from the stage: “You stepped on and obscured” the words of all the candidates, and “you did Rick Perry no good, sir.” His statements were met with only mild applause from the audience.