Wrong headline

Why are people asking Rick Perry whether he agrees with his friend the Southern Baptist Ayatollah Jeffress about whether Mormons are Christians, instead of asking whether he agrees with Jeffress that Christians should vote only for other Christians?

From Politico (and closely modeled elsewhere):

Rick Perry backer Robert Jeffress:
Mitt Romney not a Christian

So the Ayatollah Jeffress, introducing Rick Perry to the Values Voter Summit, drew the contrast between Perry’s born-again Christianity and (by clear implication) Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. Afterwards, speaking to reporters, Jeffress expressed the long-standing Southern Baptist view that Mormons aren’t Christians but members of a “cult.”

What else is new? As a matter of comparative religion, it’s not silly to distinguish Mormonism from (the rest of) Christianity. While Mormonism has more of its theological DNA in common with Cathlolicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism than with frankly non-Christian denominations, Mormon beliefs are also, in important ways, at variance with historical Christianity. Since Mormons consider themselves Christians, what Jeffress said was rude, but it wasn’t clearly wrong.

But here’s Jeffress’s peroration, after which Perry said that Jeffress had “hit it out of the park”:

Do we want a candidate who is a good moral person, or do we want a candidate who is a born-again follower of Jesus Christ? In Rick Perry, we have a candidate who is a committed follower of Christ.

Later, speaking to reporters, Jeffress doubled down:

I think Mitt Romney’s a good, moral man, but I think those of us who are born-again followers of Christ should always prefer a competent Christian to a competent – to a competent non-Christian like Mitt Romney.

So why are reporters asking Perry and his rivals to opine about whether Mormons are Christians or cult members? (Naturally, Rick “Profile in Anything But Courage” Perry chose to duck, though he seemed happy enough with the introduction when Jeffress gave it. His campaign says he didn’t choose Jeffress as his introducer, but the organizers say that Jeffress’s name was cleared by the campaign two weeks ago, and Jeffress – who has expressed similar views of Mormonism before – was one of the sponsors of Perry’s stadium-revival-cum-campaign rally.)

The question that casts light on their fitness for the Presidency is whether sectarian bigotry has a place in the polling booth.

Of course, the Value Voters Summit was being held, for the third consecutive year, on one of the Jewish High Holidays – what a coinky-dink – so there were no even slightly observant Jews present. But someone should ask Eric Cantor what he thinks about a principle that would exclude him from office. Or, for that matter, any of the professional Jews who have sold out to the Republicans for a mess of capital gains tax exclusion and Arab-bashing.

What was any candidate for the Presidency doing at this annual festival of hate? Oh yeah, I forgot: they were all angling for the votes of the dominant faction of the Republican Party.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

14 thoughts on “Wrong headline”

  1. It seems to me that this radical cleric expresses himself forcefully and with great candor. I commended him for speaking the truth.

  2. This is the view of evangelicals. I’ve heard it expressed in private conversations and it’s better to get it out in the open. Don’t think for a second that Tony Perkins and the rest don’t feel exactly the same way.

    Mitt still has a big problem, mainly in the South.

  3. I’m not a Christian, so I shouldn’t be listened to when discussing the finer points of group identity there. I’m also not a Republican, which as far as I can tell, has even weirder rules for group identity.

    But this is amusing to watch.

  4. Seconding Jamie, and adding that it’d be frikkin’ fun to see GOPgelicals refusing to vote for a Mormon GOP candidate (both to make sure that the GOP doesn’t get the presidency, and because there’d be some dowwn-ballot effects).

  5. As a religious leader, Jeffress cannot really be criticized for saying what he believes. But Perry, as a purported candidate for President of the United States, can and should be expected to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, including Article VI, clause 3, which provides that “no religious test shall ever be required” as a qualification for federal office. Perry should have noted that Jeffress’s introduction of him, far from “hitting it out of the park,” had clearly landed well into in foul territory.

  6. I wonder if Jeffress would ever opine up or down regarding The Maryland Toleration Act of . . . . . . . 1649? The Cleric Jeffress does bring the stink of extreme fundamentalism to the Perry camp, but who’s to say how Perry truly receives his earthly help!

  7. There is nothing wrong with believing that Mormons are not Christians. Calling them a “cult” is a bit much though. So I don’t know what this post is about. Much ado about nothing.

    1. I don’t read him as opining on whether Mormons are Christians. He seems to be saying (1) born-again followers of Jesus Christ are not moral people and (2) that born-again followers of Jesus Christ should be nevertheless be preferred as office holders to those who are moral people, regardless of their religious beliefs. I have rarely heard greater honesty from any cleric in this country.

  8. Actually, what I want to know is why Jeffress is juxtaposing “a good moral person” and “a born-again Christian”. It certainly makes it sound that the preference should always be for “a born-again Christian”, even one who’s not “a good moral person”. That would certainly explain ministerial support of African dictators from American Evangelical pastors.

    1. Absolutely right. In fact, he seems to be expressing the belief that a candidate who is a born-again follower of Jesus Christ is, by definition, not a good moral person.

  9. Of course, what Jay meant was that he would rather have a Christian *and* an upright moral man. Jay explains his reasons in the same letter of 12 October 1816: “*Real* Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others, and therefore will not provoke war.”

    He was campaigning against the election of Monroe, his fellow Episcopalian.

  10. If Rick Perry claims to be Christian, why does he mock the words of Jesus regarding making a public spectacle of prayer (Matthew 6:1-8)?

    But then again, Governor Perry is ostentatiously praying for rain, and his state continues to burn. Perhaps God does not take kindly to His Son’s words being mocked.

  11. The word “cult” is often treated, explicitly or implicitly, as if it were a term of high precision that permits distinguishing such organizations from denominations, sects or communities. I doubt that; cult characteristics strike me as vague, and sometimes reflected in highly mainstream religious organizations. That said, anyone who does believe that there is a robust and useful definition of “cult” is invited to state is and apply it dispassionately to the LDS, now and through is past history.

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