Video: Baptist pastor expands on Mormon 'cult' comment

  1. Closed captioning of: Baptist pastor expands on Mormon 'cult' comment

    >>> we start with religion in politics, and with me now is pastor robert jeffress of the first baptist church in dallas, texas, who said mitt romney 's not a christian and called mormonism a cult. let me get to those questions right off the bat. and let me convince you, first of all, i'm so glad to hear you're a fan of "hardball" and i appreciate that, sir. tonight i want you to just elaborate on those words. let's take a look at what you said friday at the values voters summit , and then you can elaborate on. here's part of your introduction for rick perry . let's watch.

    >> do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person? or do we want a candidate who is a born-again follower of the lord jesus christ ? rick perry is a true leader. he is a true conservative. and he is a genuine follower of jesus christ .

    >> afterwards, you were asked to compare romney's faith to that of rick perry . let's watch what you said.

    >> rick perry 's a christian. he's an evangelical christian , a follower of jesus christ . mitt romney 's a good, moral person, but he's not a christian. mormonism is not christianity . it has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of christianity . so it's a difference between a christian and a nonchristian.

    >> pastor, thank you so much for coming on. and i guess my only role here, since i'm a secular person involved with political discussions, to find out what you meant by that. in a secular contest. in other words, we're in the middle of a campaign, what relevance is it. the word "cult," would you use it again if you were asked the same question?

    >> yes, but i would clarify, like i did in that clip later on, i was talking not about a sociological cult, i'm talking about a theological cult. it's a fact, mormonism came 1800 years after jesus christ and the founding of the church. mormonism has its own human leader, joseph smith , its own set of doctrines, its own religious book , "the book of mormon ," in addition to the bible, so in that way, it's a cult. i don't believe that they are christians . and by the way, chris , my view is not unique. " usa today " today cited a poll that said that 75% of protestant pastors do not believe mormons are christians . that's three out of four protestant pastors. and you know, there are people out there who want to try to paint me as the jeremiah wright of the right. my comments are not fanatical, it's just true that mormonism is not a part of historical christianity .

    >> websters , here's what websters describes in a religious context what a cult is. a is system of religious worship or ritual, a quusy- religious group , often living in a colony, with a charismatic leader who indoctrinates members with unorthodox or extremist views, practices, or beliefs. is that what you believe as a cult?

    >> well, i believe in more a --

    >> this is what websters says. so you disagree with this definition?

    >> i think it can be stand expand. ed. but you look at brigham young , and some parts of those definitions apply to that as well. but what i'm saying is to those of us who are evangelical christians , and remember, chris , that is to who i'm saying, there are a lot of reasons why to prefer rick perry to mitt romney . i believe that mitt romney is conservative out of convenience, while rick perry is one a conservative out of conviction. but to those of us who are evangelicals, when all other things are equal, we prefer competen christians to competent nonchristians, who may be good, moral people like mitt romney .

    >> but are you concerned at having what you consider a member of a cult in the white house ? would you want a cultist in the white house ? it's your word, not mine.

    >> i understand that. and that's why i've been very clear to say, if it comes down to a choice between mitt romney and barack obama , i'll probably hold my nose in the general election and vote for mitt romney . because i believe there are other criteria besides the person's faith. you know, i believe that barack obama is a christian.

    >> let's stick on this. you don't believe mitt romney is a christian, are you concerned about a particular thing he might do as president, as a member of a cult? do you believe he might do something -- no, seriously. he's a member of a cult, you say. you support other people for president, fine. but i want to get back to this. is your problem with mitt romney that he's a member of a cult, or he may not be a good member of the cult. because you hit it both way in your conversations, you suggested that he's not a good mormon . would you prefer a good mormon to someone who you think is not a good member of the cult?

    >> well, somebody stopped me in the hallway after the voters summit and said to me, pastor, my problem with mitt romney is not that he's a mormon , but that he's not a good enough mormon when it comes to the issue of abortion and gay rights and so forth. look, i think if it comes down to it, and this is why i brought up barack obama , i would rather have somebody in the white house who is not a christian, like mitt romney , who at least embraces some biblical values versus a professing christian like president obama , who supports unbiblical principles, like abortion.

    >> i understand. that's a political view. but just to straighten this out, because you made a lot of news on this, and i appreciate you coming on this program. we don't mine making news here either. you say that he's a member of a cult. you stick to that, right?

    >> yes. yes. a theological cult, i want to clarify that.

    >> are you concerned that any one of his theological cult beliefs sitting in the white house , per se . forget it's mitt romney . are you concerned about the very fact, come january 2nd , 2013 , that a member of a cult is in the white house ? does that, in itself, concern you?

    >> no, i do not have that concern, because i think there are a lot of other things to be concerned about about mitt romney , and as we both just alluded to, i'm not sure he's that much of a practicing mormon . i don't know, be if he were a really devout mormon , i'm not sure how he could have held the views he did about abortion so long.

    >> what is wrong with mormonism ?

    >> well, mormonism , first of all, has another revelation, the revelation of "the book of mormon ," came 1,800 years after christianity . it uses a lot of the same language as christianity does. it talks about jesus christ , it talks about faith. but it's the jesus christ who came to north america in the 1800s , not the jesus christ of the bible. it doesn't have the traditional belief about heaven and hell . it teaches a works-oriented type of salvation. so for those of us who are evangelicals, there is a difference. and as i cited in that poll, 75% of protestant pastors believe that there's a vast difference between mormonism and biblical christianity .

    >> last point on religion, it's not my strength, but let me ask you this, do you believe, as a christian, and you're a christian, do you believe that mormon people believe that jesus christ was god?

    >> well, you know what i've learned --

    >> you said, "well," is that the answer, well?

    >> no.

    >> do you believe they're christians , in other words? to that central point.

    >> well, i don't believe all baptists are christians . i'm a baptist, i don't believe all baptists are christians , all catholics are christians , or all mormons are christians . nobody goes to heaven in a group, chris . we go individually to heaven or hell , personally based on what we believe in jesus christ .

    >> you're very good at this, but this is called spin.

    >> no, it's not.

    >> i want to ask you, sticking to the issue of faith and belief.

    >> not all mormons believe what mormons believe.

    >> you know you've stirred up --

    >> -- all members of any faith.

    >> does it bother you that you've stirred up a bee's nest on this. that they hear the word "cult," they hear charles manson , they hear jonestown. they hear cult in the way i've described it in the dictionary of the united states , in webster's dictionary, as some group living in a colony with a charismatic leader that indoctrinates members with unorthodox or extremist views. you say that's not the definition you use, but to american who is hear you, when they hear cult, i'm going to give you now a chance, say you didn't mean that kind of cult. say, i did not mean --

    >> okay, i will say that, chris . i will raise my right hand and say, i did not mean that kind of cult. i was talking about a theological cult. but let me add, if i could, that i think many of the people who are bothered with what i said about a cult are just as bothered when i sit here and say that mormonism is not christianity . so a lot of the reporters, they rushed me after my introduction, because they picked up on the fact that i was distinguishing a good moral person, like mitt romney , with a born-again follower of jesus christ . they knew what i was saying. they knew i was saying that mormonism is not christianity . and i think that's what the real issue is. not the cult issue.

    >> would you, in general parlance, would you always support, what you consider a born-again christian for the presidency against any other opponent? in other words, that's your position?

    >> no, i wouldn't say that. no. i would not say that.

    >> you say that's why you're for romney -- or that's why you're for perry, you said.

    >> no, chris , i gave a number of reasons i'm for perry, not just because of his faith. i believe he's a consistent conservative, i believe he's field in leadership, perhaps not rhetoric, but in leadership. and i think there are a number of reasons beyond his christian faith . and again, i think you've got a christian in barack obama , a professing christian, and a nonchristian in mitt romney , and i've said publicly i would vote for mitt romney if it comes down to that. but, remember, chris , we're in a primary season, and those of us who are evangelical christians , we have a chance to select a christian for our leader. and i want to remind people, chris , it was john jay , the first chief justice of the united states supreme court who said, we have as our duty and privilege to select and prefer christians as our leaders. having preference for christians over nonchristians is not being bigoted, it's a preference that we're allowed.

    >> let me read to you the united states constitution , what it says about religion and political office . article 6, united states constitution , which many people believe to be divinely inspired. the senators and representatives before mentioned 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 for any office or public trust under the united states . sir, how else can -- i know you're a fundamentalist, so let's go to the strict meaning of this term. "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust ." how can anyone of any religion read that anything -- as meaning anything else but what it says?

    >> chris --

    >> "no religious test ."

    >> chris , certainly you understand the difference between government in posing a religious test and private citizens having any kind of litmus test they want to. are you suggesting that for me to prefer a christian over a nonchristian is a against the law or unconstitutional? that's absurd.

    >> no, no.

    >> no, article 6 is talking about the government cannot impose a religious test . you can impose any kind of test you want to.

    >> of course. anybody can have any preference or prejudice, of course we can.

    >> that's right, but you're misleading people in thinking it's unconstitutional.

    >> no.

    >> yes, you are.

    >> no. i'm just asking you if there's a higher value in what you're saying than what the constitution says. people can say i'm italian american so always vote for the italian american . i'm black american , always vote for the african- american candidate . everybody can do that. but that's not a high value. people can always say, i'm always going to support somebody of my religion. you can't say that what you're proposing, which is simply to vote your religion is somehow a higher value than any other prejudice, can you? it's just a prejudice.

    >> oh, i can say --

    >> yeah, but it's just a prejudice.

    >> do you think john jay , the author of the federalist papers and the first chief justice of the supreme court was a bigot? do you think that, chris ?

    >> no, i'm just saying, do you think what you're saying is no different from someone saying, it's just another religious sect or cult or denomination that simply votes their nomination or cult or sect. it's just the same old kind of tribalism that we had in europe and we tried to leave behind. yes or no?

    >> well, first of all, chris , your viewers have just heard me say that i would vote for mitt romney in certain circumstances. so, obviously, i have other considerations. but to your question, is there a higher authority than the constitution? for me, as a christian, as a pastor, the answer is yes. it is the bible.

    >> you know, it's great to have you on, sir, and i think you're great. the way you talk on this show, i don't agree with you, but i think it's great that you come on and honestly reveal. you're not a tricky guy. not too tricky. thank you very much, pastor robert jeffress for coming

By M. Alex Johnson Reporter
updated 10/17/2011 3:21:19 PM ET 2011-10-17T19:21:19

Four years ago, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took time from his Republican presidential campaign to talk at length about the role of religion in America and in his life.

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It is entirely appropriate to ask "questions about an aspiring candidate's religion," Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a sober, here's-what-I-believe address in College Station, Texas, in December 2007.

Video: Romney on his Mormon faith in 2007 (on this page)

This time around, the same questions are being asked: Are Mormons really Christians? Should evangelical Christians refuse to even consider voting for them?

But this time, Romney's response is very different.

"Poisonous language doesn't advance our cause," Romney said Monday in comments at the Values Voters Summit, a conservative gathering in Washington.

That's the same venue where an influential minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, told reporters that he was endorsing Texas Gov. Rick Perry because Romney is "not a Christian" and the LDS Church is "a cult."

Perry said he disagreed with Jeffress, but he also refused Romney's demand that he "repudiate the sentiment and the remarks."

To which Romney replied Tuesday: "I just don't believe that that kind of divisiveness based on religion has a place in this country."

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday suggests that such questions also may no longer resonate with voters as loudly as they once did.

In the poll, 66 percent of Republican primary voters said they had no concerns about Romney's faith or its effect on his potential presidency; only 13 percent said they were concerned. The rest said they didn't know enough to judge or weren't sure.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, meanwhile, declined to comment on the controversy, referring reporters to church materials on its website.)

Romney forced to revisit religion issue

Skepticism since the 1820s
As Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a prominent religious conservative political group, said in an interview this week on CNBC: "The fact is, Romney's been around this track before."

Skeptics of Mormonism "have been around since the church started" in the 1820s, said Scott Gordon, dean of the business school at Shasta College in Redding, Calif., and president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, an umbrella organization of nonprofit groups that seek to answer critics of the LDS Church, as the denomination prefers to be called.

That's why the same questions keep "coming up over and over again," Gordon, a ward mission leader and former bishop in the church, said in an interview this week. "Part of the difficulty is most people don't know what a Mormon is."

The church is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and its American members are disproportionally distributed in the western United States. Consequently, Gordon said, Mormons tend to be more often misunderstood in the eastern half of the country.

"Those are the folks who have beards and drive buggies — oh, wait, those are the Amish," he said.

Unfamiliarity combined with portrayals of the church "as being cultish, as being secretive — I think it makes some people nervous," he said, even though "we're fairly traditional Bible-believing Christians."

"The idea that we're somehow not traditional Christians because we don't believe exactly like a Southern Baptist believes ... seems very small," he said.

But Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a leading Southern Baptist institution in Kansas City, Mo., said the evangelical distinction was drawn over much more than differences of opinion that developed a millennium after Jesus' crucifixion.

The LDS Church "radically reconstructs the historic Christian doctrines on God, Jesus and salvation," said Roberts, the author of "The Counterfeit Gospel of Mormonism" and for many years a senior leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's second-largest denomination.

"I think evangelicals look at Mormons as basically having a belief in God and the 10 Commandments, and Mormons are generally known to be morally traditional and to confirm much of the Judeo-Christian ethic," Roberts said in an interview this week.

Not just Mitt: Other power players of the Mormon faith

But "they deny the confessions of the church," he said, referring to a series of statements of fundamental Protestant beliefs about salvation over the centuries.

The common thread through those writings is that Jesus is the only intermediary with God in salvation from spiritual death, which can be received only by confession of faith in God through the sacrifice of Jesus. In other words, evangelicals and other Protestants believe salvation is "faith-based."

Mormons believe that faith in God and the atonement of Jesus are part of salvation, but they also put significant emphasis on living a kind and productive life on Earth. In that sense, salvation in the LDS Church is said to be "works-based."

And Roberts said that while evangelicals and many other Protestants believe the Bible is literally true, Mormons "say it's full of errors ... and had to be supplemented with their three books."

They are:

"There's an obvious disconnect with historical Christianity," and on that ground, it's appropriate for evangelicals and many mainline Protestant denominations to consider the LDS Church a "theological cult," Roberts said.

"Their claim to be the only true church is a radical reconstruction of the Christian faith," he said. "If the Mormon Church were to say 'we are a separate world religion,' like Islam, we'd say: 'Fine. They're not a cult.' But there's no common basis for identity with other Christian groups."

Official positions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Jeffress: 'My comments are not fanatical'
In interviews after his comments at the Values Voters Summit, Jeffress made the same point, saying he regretted that his remarks had been misinterpreted as a dismissal of the LDS Church as a "sociological cult like David Koresh," who was killed along with 21 followers of his Branch Davidian sect in a confrontation with federal authorities in 1990. He stressed that he was speaking of it as "theological cult" in doctrinal terms.

Video: Baptist pastor expands on Mormon 'cult' comment (on this page)

"There are people out there who want to try to paint me as the Jeremiah Wright of the right," Jeffress told Chris Matthews in an interview on MSNBC-TV's "Hardball," referring to President Barack Obama's controversial former pastor. "But my comments are not fanatical — it's just true that Mormonism is not a part of historical Christianity," particularly in its teachings on salvation, he said.

Jeffress acknowledged that, on that basis, "I don't believe all Baptists are Christians or all Catholics are Christians."

"Nobody goes to heaven in a group," he said. "We go individually to heaven or hell personally based on what we believe in Jesus Christ."

While some reports have characterized Jeffress' views as outside the mainstream, research shows that it is the dominant philosophy among evangelicals and other Protestant.

In a survey of Protestant ministers (.pdf) released this week by LifeWay Research, 75 percent disagreed with the statement "I personally believe Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) to be Christians." Sixty percent said they "strongly disagreed."

The results were relatively consistent across age groups, years in church leadership and levels of theological education. (The poll, which interviewed 1,000 senior ministers across the country, reported a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.)

Evangelical ministers were more likely to "strongly disagree" that Mormons are Christians than were mainline Protestant ministers — that is, pastors of Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and other non-Catholic, non-evangelical churches. But even half of those pastors said they, too, "strongly disagreed."

Such views are not new.

In 2000, for example, delegates to the the United Methodist Church's General Conference voted without debate to declare that "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by self-definition, does not fit within the bounds of the historic, apostolic tradition of Christian faith."

And in 1998, Lifeway — which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention — published Roberts' book "Mormonism Unmasked," part of a convention-led campaign called The Mormon Puzzle. Another book in the program, "The Mormon Puzzle: The Challenge of Mormonism," declared: "Regardless of what the Mormon missionaries or television commercials say, the Mormon church is anti-Christian."

Gordon, head of the Mormon apologetics group, said: "No, we're not Tulip Calvinists, and we're not Southern Baptists. (But) we are Christians.

"We believe in the Bible. Do we have some differences? Yes. Otherwise, there'd be no need for a Mormon church.

"I wonder how the Jews felt about early Christians — 'They can't be Jews, because they have the New Testament'?" 

Will doubt translate to votes?
Whether the revival of such decades-old discussions will have a significant impact on the 2012 presidential campaign is not clear.

Influential evangelical defends Romney, but says Mormonism's not Christian

Whether evangelicals should vote for Romney or any other Mormon for president is a separate question, Jeffress said. His endorsement of Perry, he said, was based not just on Perry's personal confession of faith but also on his more conservative stances on issues like abortion and gay marriage.

"I think you've got a Christian in Barack Obama ... and a non-Christian in Mitt Romney, and I've said publicly I would vote for Mitt Romney if it comes down to that," Jeffress said.

Roberts, of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he would be "concerned" if Romney became president, but "I would not stand up in the pulpit and say you must not vote for him."

"Although (Romney) affirms his Mormon faith," he said, "when you punch the ballot," the real question becomes 'Does this man have the judgment I follow?'"

It was Gordon, the former LDS bishop — not Mormon critics — who said Romney should have real concerns about whether evangelicals and other Protestants would be willing to vote for him.

First Read vote: Is Romney the inevitable nominee?

"Making it through the primaries will be difficult because of the Southern evangelicals," said Gordon, who called invocations of "traditional Christianity" by Mormon skeptics simply "code for Southern Baptist."

"And when we turn to the General Election, you're going to run into a whole other set of questions that Republicans wouldn't ask," he said, among them:

  • "What about the Mormon position on African-Americans?" The church, while it has been integrated since its founding, did not admit black men to leadership positions until 1978.
  • And "what about the church's involvement in Proposition 8?" The church strongly supported the 2008 California ballot initiative that restricted same-sex marriages, sending letters to every Mormon congregation in the state and launching a national fund-raising drive that generated half of the $40 million in total donations to the pro-proposition campaign, its organizers said.

"That's no big issue among Republican primary voters," Gordon said. "It could be with independent and women voters."

At the same time, there's a risk of a backlash vote in Romney's favor if opponents focus too much on his faith, he said.

"Mormons hold a lot of power in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and Colorado, and all those could be swing states," Gordon said. "If people alienate the Mormon vote — and Mormons are truly active voters — they may be tipping the balance."

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Explainer: The 2012 GOP presidential field

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    But a month later, the campaign was practically in ruins — with his campaign manager, spokesman, senior strategists all resigning en masse. Most cited issues with the "direction" of the campaign. But Gingrich vowed to press on.

    Slideshow: Newt Gingrich

    Also at issue: Gingrich’s personal life could make winning the support of social conservatives thorny for the twice-divorced former lawmaker. In a damning interview earlier this year, Esquire quoted one of Gingrich’s former wives describing him as a hypocrite who preached the sanctity of marriage while in the midst of conducting an illicit affair.

    Additional obstacles include his recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan as “right-wing social engineering" and reports of a $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany’s, the luxury jewelry company.

  • Gary Johnson, announced on April 21

    Image:Gary Johnson
    Jim Cole  /  AP
    Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

    The former New Mexico governor took a big leap in late April, not by announcing an exploratory committee, but by actually announcing his official candidacy. “I’m running for president of the United States,” he told a couple of supporters and cameramen gathered for his announcement outside the New Hampshire State Capitol.

    He's a steadfast libertarian who supports the legalization of marijuana. He vetoed more than 700 pieces of legislation during his two terms as governor.


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