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Faith and the Republican race

Faith and the Republican race

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?

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C. Wingate

"No religious test" doesn't trump the free exercise clause.

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Deacon Charlie

From Article VI paragraph 3 of the Unioted States Constitution:

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

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C. Wingate

Oh, Marshall, how soon we forget. Kerry, back in 2004, apparently thought that he had to portray himself as a Catholic dissident in order to obtain the Democratic nomination.

And with all due disrespect to Perry, the Deseret theocracy is part of Mormon history. How much Romney would or could bring this to bear on the federal government is open to consideration. And as a practical matter I'm all for getting out in the open that Mormon theology is wildly at variance with orthodoxy.

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Execute

William asked, :Would a Roman Catholic (or Episcopalian) that spoke openly of being guided by Catholic social teachings on the economy, war, capital punishment, marriage, abortion, immigration and health care -- all of them-- be more accepted/acceptable at any level in the Republican or Democratic party?" William, I think the question is apt. However, I would suggest that most of Catholic social teaching is quite acceptable to progressives (of either party; although there are perhaps more in the Democratic party). Yes, there are those who would have difficulties about abortion; but how folks reacted would depend on how the person presented her or his opinion.

Marshall Scott

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Dave Paisley

“This idea that Mormonism is a theological cult is not news either. That has been the historical position of Christianity for a long time.”

Absolutely true statement, and one that most people don't make out of politeness and not wanting to mention the giant pink elephant in the room. Of course, there isn't exactly one voice that speaks for "Christianity", but generally true nevertheless.

The LDS is not a Christian church. Does anyone outside the Mormon church really believe otherwise? This is a core question that gets danced around a lot.

For any candidate with strong religious beliefs, the real question is how much their political positions and acts will be driven (or perceived to be driven) by those beliefs, especially good ol' boy behind-the-scenes influence.

For most mainstream religions I think the average voter believes they understand the situation and that hidden influences are not a large factor. For catholic candidates, for instance, the degree to which the Vatican and Archbishops "control" their flocks has been explored at length and debated over things like threatened excommunication for candidates who do not oppose abortion. For the most part the pressure has resulted in no effect.

The secrecy of the Mormon church and their odd behavior at times leads one to believe the average voter would definitely be suspicious.

In the end, I think it comes to perceived openness and transparency. The Mormon church definitely lacks both.

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