After introducing Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit, Baptist pastor and Perry supporter Robert Jeffress told reporters, "As evangelical Christians, we understand that Mormonism is not Christianity. The decision for evangelical Christians right now is going to be do we prefer someone who is truly a believer in Jesus Christ or someone…who is a part of a cult." Calling Mormonism a cult was a clear jab at former Gov. Mitt Romney, Mormon and GOP 2012 frontrunner. It also revived the debate on the role of religion in the presidential campaign. Jeffress later cleared up his comments, "I did not talk about my Mormon views [with Perry], and I'm not insinuating that the governor shares those at all—he may not share them at all." Perry too later said he didn't agree with Jeffress's characterization of Mormonism, yet he refused to disavow himself from the pastor. Rather, he called the controversy a "distraction."
Writing in the Washington Post, former vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman addressed the matter. "I hope and believe that Americans of all faiths—and of no faith—will not base their votes on the fact that Romney's Mormon faith seems 'different.'" Yet, the issue of religion is unlikely to fade into the background in the race for the White House. Perry has been very outspoken about his faith, even sponsoring a prayer summit shortly before announcing his candidacy. He also stood by his wife's assessment of his current campaign troubles—she said he had been "brutalized …because of his faith." Polls continue to fluctuate as Republican primary voters fail to fall behind a single GOP candidate. Thus, capturing the religious, social conservative bloc may be key to securing the nomination. Perhaps this is why Perry refuses to cut ties with the contentious pastor.
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