Robert Jeffress, the Dallas megachurch pastor who introduced Perry to the crowd, [ed: at this weekend's Values Voters Summit] sought to assure the group of cultural conservatives that Perry is one of them.
“When the smoke has cleared, those of us who are evangelical Christians are going to have a choice to make, and the choice is this,” Jeffress said. “Do we want a candidate who is skilled at rhetoric or one who is skilled at leadership? Do we want a candidate who is a conservative of convenience, or one who is a conservative of conviction? Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or one who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?”
Jeffress has long been controversial. Speaking to reporters on Friday, he repeated his view that Mormonism is a “cult” and that Mitt Romney is not a Christian. It’s a contention he previously aired during the former Massachusetts governor’s 2008 primary campaign — that’s why reporters were asking him about it, and why it shouldn’t have been news to Perry’s campaign.
But Perry appeared to welcome Jeffress’ support as a means of validating his social-conservative credentials. His campaign later issued a statement saying the candidate does not believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a cult.
Said Max Twain at “Race 4 2011″, “Mormon card officially played.” Co-Blogger John Mark Reynolds is getting on a airplane, but took a moment to email me his comments:
There are useful idiots. These sad souls enable evil without meaning to do so. There is an idiocy greater than that of the useful idiot: the useless idiot.
The useless idiot is so confused he serves no cause but confusion. The useless idiot means to speak English, but ends up speaking in a private code nobody understands.
Recently, a pastor introduced Rick Perry by attacking Mormonism as a “cult.” When reading this post calling him out, this pastor might feel the hero standing for the gospel, but he is really a useless idiot.
And that is the charitable explanation for his words.
The word “cult” has many meanings. For example, in ancient philosophy we call any means of worship a cult. If one is at a Bible college in the Evangelical faith tradition, it is common to think of a cult as a group derived from Christianity, but not holding to essential doctrines.
Most Americans think the word “cult” means: “crazy people likely to serve Kool-aid for dinner.”
When a pastor says Mormonism is a “cult” in a political context, he may be thinking the Bible college definition, but regular folk only hear the insult. He might as well say that in his experience Rick Perry is “gay,” as a Victorian used the word and then be befuddled at the response.
That sets the context my comments. Please note that little comment from the Atlantic, “…why it shouldn’t have been news to Perry’s campaign.“ There is nothing surprising about Jeffress’ comments at all. Our regular readers may not know Jeffress. We chose last cycle not to cover him, though we knew all about him. He was one of those people that we felt if we gave coverage to him it would be giving him more credibility than he deserved. No such luxury this time, he has stepped into it with both feet.
I am not talking out of school here. The Article VI movie that we covered last time, featured extensive interviews with Jeffress. The movie is now out of circulation, but we are trying as hard as we can to run down the producers and get permission to put up one of the most damning quotes ever. In the film, Jeffress says that he could not even be friends with a Mormon. At the first screening of the film I saw, that comment resulted in a notable and verbal reaction from the audience. There is no mistaking who Jeffress is and what he thinks.
John Mark Reynolds again:
As for Perry, this is disturbing and reminds me of an old trick in the South. Asking a known bigot to introduce you and denying what he says is an old tactic of up-town bigots. The up-town bigot uses the idiot bigot to say what he will not and keeps his record clean at his club.
Let me break this down for you. There are only three possible options here. One, Rick Perry has one of the worst advance teams in history and this one just slipped by them. If that’s the case, Perry is disqualified for lack of judgement in his hires. Two, Jeffress slipped his leash. Not buying it, the statement from the campaign is just too mild. From ABCNews:
When initially asked by ABC News whether Gov. Perry agreed that Mormonism is a cult, Perry spokesman Mark Miner said: “The governor doesn’t judge what is in the heart and soul of others. He leaves that to God.”
Miner would also not immediately say whether the governor believed it was wrong to call Mormonism a cult. ”It’s not his decision to judge that,” the spokesman said. He added that conference organizers decided who should introduce Perry at the summit, not the campaign.
But minutes later, Miner called ABC News with a new statement: “He does not believe it is a cult.”
If this was a point of conviction from Perry or the campaign and they truly had nothing at stake with Jeffress, they would have included a statement condemning Jeffress outright. Nor do I buy the excuse that the conference organizers choose who does the introductions. If I’m one of the top two candidates for president, such things do not go undiscussed or unnegotiated. If Team Perry left this up to the Family Research Council then back to option one.
Third option and the one I am buying – this was exactly what JMR says it was, an attempt to play the Mormon card with plausible deniability. Such a “plausibly deniable” play seemed to work for Huckbee in Iowa last time.
Well, it is not going to work this time, just like it did not really work last time – Huckabee is a TV host that ate a lot of crow sucking up to Romney in an interview just last weekend – NOT POTUS, not even our party’s nominee. Sadly, I think Perry just disqualified himself. There is no room for this kind of stuff in a candidate.
It’s a really sad day.