Pastor Robert Jeffress has penned an Op-Ed for The Washington Post defending his position that Christians ought to prefer Christian political candidates over non-Christian ones. He has a number of points, but in one section he seeks again to clarify where he believes he has been misrepresented in the press. He writes:
I believe I have been misquoted repeatedly as telling the GOP not to vote for Romney. I have never made such a statement; I realize I might very well end up voting for Romney if he is the Republican nominee. While I prefer a competent Christian over a competent non-Christian, religion is not the only consideration in choosing a candidate. Frankly, Christians have not always made good presidents. We must also consider whether a candidate is competent to lead and govern according to biblical principles.
You can read the rest here.
By the way, Jeffress’ comments came up tonight in the GOP debate in Las Vegas, Nevada. Anderson Cooper and Mitt Romney put the screws on Rick Perry to denounce Jeffress, but Perry demurred. Perry stated that he disagreed with Jeffress, but he stopped short of denouncing him. You can watch the exchange here.
Here’s the transcript of this portion of the debate focusing on religion:
COOPER: And welcome back to the CNN GOP debate live from the Venetian in Las Vegas. Let’s continue. We’ve got an e-mail question that was left at cnnpolitics.com. This is from a Mike Richards who says: “With the controversy surrounding Robert Jeffress, is it acceptable to let the issue of a candidate’s faith shape the debate?”
Senator Santorum, this is in reference to a Baptist pastor who, at the Values Voter Summit, after introducing Governor Rick Perry, said of — said that “Mitt Romney is not a Christian,” and that “Mormonism is a cult.” Those were his words.
COOPER: Should voters pay attention to a candidate’s religion?
SANTORUM: I think they should pay attention to the candidate’s values, what the candidate stands for.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SANTORUM: That’s what is at play. And the person’s faith — and you look at that faith and what the faith teaches with respect to morals and values that are reflected in that person’s belief structure. So that’s — those are important things.
I — I’m a Catholic. Catholic has social teachings. Catholic has teachings as to what’s right and what’s wrong. And those are legitimate things for voters to look at, to say if you’re a faithful Catholic, which I try to be — fall short all the time, but I try to be — and — and it’s a legitimate thing to look at as to what the tenets and teachings of that faith are with respect to how you live your life and — and how you would govern this country.
With respect to what is the road to salvation, that’s a whole different story. That’s not applicable to what — what the role is of being the president or a senator or any other job.
COOPER: Speaker Gingrich, you agree with that?
GINGRICH: Well, I think if the question is, does faith matter? Absolutely. How can you have a country which is founded on truths which begins we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights? How can you have the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which says religion, morality and knowledge being important, education matters. That’s the order: religion, morality and knowledge.
Now, I happen to think that none of us should rush in judgment of others in the way in which they approach God. And I think that all of us up here I believe would agree. (APPLAUSE)
But I think all of us would also agree that there’s a very central part of your faith in how you approach public life. And I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments, because then I’d wonder, where’s your judgment — how can you have judgment if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?
Who you pray to, how you pray, how you come close to God is between you and God. But the notion that you’re endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by America.
COOPER: Governor Perry, Mitt Romney asked you to repudiate the comments of that pastor who introduced you on that stage. He didn’t make the comments on the stage; he made them afterward in an interview. Will you repudiate those comments?
ROMNEY: Well, our faith — I can no more remove my faith than I can that I’m the son of a tenant farmer. I mean, the issue, are we going to be individuals who stand by our faith? I have said I didn’t agree with that individual’s statement. And our founding fathers truly understood and had an understanding of — of freedom of religion.
And this country is based on, as — as Newt talked about, these values that are so important as we go forward. And the idea that we should not have our freedom of — of religion to be taken away by any means, but we also are a country that is free to express our opinions. That individual expressed an opinion. I didn’t agree with it, Mitt, and I said so. But the fact is, Americans understand faith. And what they’ve lost faith in is the current resident of the White House.
Governor Romney, is that — is that acceptable to you?
ROMNEY: You know, with — with regards to the disparaging comments about my faith, I’ve heard worse, so I’m not going to lose sleep over that.
What I actually found was most troubling in what the reverend said in the introduction was he said, in choosing our nominee, we should inspect his religion. And someone who is a good moral person is not someone who we should select; instead, we should choose someone who subscribes to our religious belief.
That — that idea that we should choose people based upon their religion for public office is what I find to be most troubling, because the founders of this country went to great length to make sure — and even put it in the Constitution — that we would not choose people who represent us in government based upon their religion, that this would be a nation that recognized and respected other faiths, where there’s a plurality of faiths, where there was tolerance for other people and faiths. That’s bedrock principle.
And it was that principle, Governor, that I wanted you to be able to, no, no, that’s wrong, Reverend Jeffress. Instead of saying as you did, “Boy, that introduction knocked the ball out of the park,” I’d have said, “Reverend Jeffress, you got that wrong. We should select people not based upon their faith.” Even though — and I don’t suggest you distance yourself from your faith any more than I would. But the concept that we select people based on the church or the synagogue they go to, I think, is a very dangerous and — and enormous departure from the principles of our — of our Constitution.
COOPER: Would you still like him to say that?
(UNKNOWN): I’m sorry?
COOPER: Would — would you still like the governor to say that? Or was that something you wanted him to…
ROMNEY: I’ll let him — that’s his choice.
COOPER: Do you want to respond to that, Governor Perry?
PERRY: I have. I said I did not agree with the — Pastor Jeffress’s remarks. I don’t agree with them. I — I can’t apologize any more than that.
ROMNEY: That’s fine.
Is the first “Romney” quote meant to be a “Perry” quote?
Yes, and it just barely makes enough sense to be understood. Perry backers must hold their breath every time he speaks without a script.
Romney: “the founders of this country went to great length to make sure — and even put it in the Constitution — that we would not choose people who represent us in government based upon their religion”
It’s a shame to see “religious” candidates promote this myth. In stipulating no “religious test” for holding office, did the Constitution not mean the government cannot require candidates to subscribe to any particular religious belief to be eligible for public office?
If so, that has nothing to do whatsoever with the individual decision of voters to choose someone to represent them based upon their shared religious beliefs. Rather, the public should be about the business of inspecting religious beliefs, because a sincere believer will indeed govern based on their convictions.
Testing the convictions and the sincerity of the candidates belief is exactly what voters ought to do when considering whom to support.
So what exactly is the problem with saying you’d prefer a Christian over a non-Christian provided the Christian is competent to lead?
Does anyone seriously think that Romney, given two possible candidates, both equally able to lead, wouldn’t pick the Mormon?
Of course he would.
The problem is that Jeffress has been widely misquoted to have said that religion trumps competence, which is–as you can see–not what he has been arguing.