Yesterday an important Evangelical leader in Texas, Robert Jeffress, introduced Rick Perry (his governor) as a "genuine follower of Jesus Christ" and then went outside to meet with reporters to state that Perry's opponent Mitt Romney is "not a Christian". This represents the first real attack on Romney's faith background of this election year, and the pastor made the charges at an event organized by the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and other evangelical Christian groups.
"Mr. Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, an influential congregation within the Southern Baptist Convention, also expressed surprise at the stir his comments created, saying that his view of the Mormon Church is widely held by evangelicals. “This isn’t news,” he said. “This idea that Mormonism is a theological cult is not news either. That has been the historical position of Christianity for a long time.”
While denying that his comments were coordinated with the Perry campaign, Mr. Jeffress said he emphatically believed that Mr. Romney’s faith would spell trouble for him with many Republican voters and make it hard for him to win in Iowa, as well as South Carolina and other Bible Belt states.
“I think it is going to be a major factor among evangelical voters,” he said. “The thing is, they won’t be honest and tell you that it is going to be a major factor. Most people don’t want to admit — even evangelical Christians — that they have a problem with Mormonism. They think it is bigoted to say so. But what voters say to a pollster sometimes is different than what they do when they go into the privacy of a voting booth.”
He also said that he believed Mr. Romney is a “good, moral person,” and that he would endorse him over the president. "
More in the NY Times accounthere.
Commentary at BeliefNet argues that this was a political attack that originated out of the Perry campaign.
Bill Bennett responded to the attack by decrying the bigotry that it represented. And according to the same report, Perry has distanced himself from Jeffress' remarks.
It was probably only a matter of time until this happened. And it's probably not a coincidence that this charge was leveled as Perry is starting to slip in the Republican polls (in large part due to his debate performance when he came under attack from Romney).
Do you think this will gain traction? Will it shift support back to Perry? Harry Reid, the prominent Mormon Democrat will lead one to think that this wouldn't be an issue in a Democratic primary, but do you think that's true?
How much should we count a person's private faith and beliefs toward discerning their fitness for secular office? Certainly it matters to some degree, but it does it matter more in a Presidential election than it might in a Congressional, State or local election?