Yesterday Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress lit the Internet on fire after he introduced Rick Perry at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit then made extraordinary statements in a post-introduction interview that really stoked the flames. Some choice quotes:
“That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult.”
“Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”
“No.” (In response to Politico’s question: “Is Mitt Romney a Christian?”)
These remarks should not have come as a surprise to the Family Research Council or Rick Perry. After all, in a well-publicized speech during the 2008 campaign season, he said:
Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Even though he talks about Jesus as his lord and savior, he is not a Christian . . . Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult. And just because somebody talks about Jesus does not make them a believer.
In a 2008 debate with Jay Sekulow he even went so far as to declare that he’d vote for a pro-choice Christian over a pro-life Mormon in a Republican primary because of the “eternal consequences” which could lead people into an “eternal separation” from God (see embedded video at 6:35 mark).
I won’t even deal with his claim that Mormonism is a “cult.” To believe that Mormonism is a cult, one has to stretch the term so far as to be functionally meaningless. In this context, the word is a slur, pure and simple.
He makes three much more serious claims that he is in no way qualified to make. First, without knowing Mitt Romney at all he flatly declares that Mitt Romney is not a Christian. Yet it is God who defines Christianity, not Robert Jeffress (thanks be to God for that), and in his word God has clearly stated that salvation is based on faith alone.
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Does Robert Jeffress know if Mitt Romney has made this confession? If Mitt Romney has this belief? He does not, and any statement to the contrary represents an astoundingly irresponsible amount of speculation.
Second, he goes even farther to chastise “every true, born again follower of Christ” who supports Mitt over Rick Perry (and presumably the other evangelicals in the Republican primary). Honestly, I simply can’t find any biblical support for the notion that I, as an American citizen and therefore an integral part of our own government (according to our constitution we are not divided into a class of “rulers” and “ruled” but instead “we the people” are responsible for the fate of the nation) cannot select the man I believe is best able to defend the unborn, preserve national security, and restore fiscal sanity — and do those things with integrity or dignity.
How far does Mr. Jeffress propose we go? Shall we reject Jews? Or if he’s the policeman of orthodoxy and saving faith, shall we also reject Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and any of the other mainline congregants whose denominational leaders are even now departing dramatically from biblical Christianity? His principle is fundamentally unworkable and remarkably (and fruitlessly) divisive.
In fact, even he won’t hold to his own principles, saying that he’d support alleged cultist Mitt Romney over Christian Barack Obama. So, where does this leave us? With religious wars confined to the Republican primary?
Finally, is it really the case that a Mormon president would threaten us with “eternal separation” from God? Earlier this year, Christian journalist Warren Cole Smith made a similar argument, saying “people’s souls” were at stake if Mitt Romney became president. As I noted then, this comment implies a remarkably small view of God and a large view of politics. But the reality is exactly the reverse:
In biblical Christianity, as opposed to consumer Christianity, God is the Prime Mover in our salvation, not man. And the goal is not life enhancement, but the reconciliation of our broken souls with a Holy God.
This is plain from scripture, from Jesus selecting his disciples, to Paul’s Damascus Road conversion, to the miraculous interaction between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, to the definitive declaration: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
Why do we believe that God would entrust something as precious as the individual soul to something so trivial as our voting decision? That’s not to say that votes don’t matter. Politicians help shape our culture, they make life-and-death decisions, and they can impact (though we often overstate their influence) an economy that shapes the material dreams of our own lives and our children’s lives. But presidents don’t save or condemn us, and their influence is inconsequential in the face of a sovereign God.
I’m not sure why the Family Research Council recommended that Robert Jeffress introduce Rick Perry, nor can I figure out why Rick Perry would have approved him (unless he was either ignorant of Jeffress’s views about Mitt or maliciously hoped he’d trigger this exact controversy). One thing is clear, however: In his attempt to smear Mitt, Robert Jeffress smeared himself. Jeffress’s unbiblical beliefs should not — and, mercifully, will not — gain wider traction in Christian community or the Republican electorate.
Simply put, when it comes to this issue, most Christians know their Bible (and the Constitution) better than Pastor Robert Jeffress.
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