Dr. Robert Jeffress, the influential pastor of a Dallas-based megachurch, offered his formal endorsement of Texas Gov. Rick Perry Friday at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. Friday, shortly before he explained why Perry's opponent atop the GOP field, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is a cultist.
Jeffress introduced Perry before he addressed the annual gathering for social conservatives, making a special point to emphasize Perry's Christian faith--as opposed to Romney's, who a Mormon, which Jeffress said was a "cult."
"We understand Mormonism is not Christianity and thus the difference between somebody who's moral and good like Mitt Romney and a true born-again follower of Christ," Jeffress said after Perry's speech, adding that Perry had welcomed his endorsement. "I really think the decision for conservative evangelical Christians right now is going to be, do we prefer somebody who is truly a believer in Jesus Christ, or somebody who is a good moral person but he's a part of a cult."
"It's not politically correct to say, but it's true. Mormonism is a cult. And for those reasons, besides Governor Romney's lack of consistency on social issues, I think Rick Perry is the most electable choice among Christian conservatives," he went on.
Jeffress' views, however, do not reflect Perry's, his campaign spokesman told The Ticket.
"The governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult," Perry Communication Director Mark Miner said in an email.
Labeling Mormonism as a cult does not put Jeffress outside of the Southern Baptist mainstream. The denomination officially recognizes Romney's church as a cult, and has done so for years. Jeffress's views also should not come as a surprise to Perry's camp, since the preacher has publicly called Mormonism a cult in the past.
"The Southern Baptist Convention has officially labeled Mormonism as a cult, so this is not some right-wing extremist view. It's a view of the largest Protestant denomination in the world," he said. "I think there are a lot of people who will not publicly say that's an issue because they don't want to appear to be bigoted, but for a lot of evangelical Christians, that is a huge issue, even if it's unspoken."