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2011 Values Voters Summit
Before I share my account of speeches and sights at the 2011 Values Voters Summit, I want to bring attention to tensions between Mormons and anti-Mormon evangelicals at the summit. As some commentators expected, not only did some attendees express antipathy toward Mormonism, but Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck also spoke out (albeit gently) against anti-Mormon sentiments.
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (one of the Values Voters Summit's co-sponsors) created controversy earlier this year when he made a controversial comments about Mormons on AFA's Focal Point. This fact was not lost on Mitt Romney, a Mormon himself. During his speech at the summit on Saturday, October 8th, Romney did not name names, but criticized one of the conference speakers for using "poisonous language."
"We should remember that decency and civility are values too. One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line, I think. Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart or changed a single mind. The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate."
Glenn Beck, also a Mormon, defended his faith during an afternoon speech on October 8th. Acknowledging the right of unnamed Values Voters Summit speakers to criticize his beliefs, Beck nevertheless made it clear that he would not apologize for his Mormon religion. "I am a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ," he told listeners.
Bryan Fischer's words were not the only anti-Mormon statements causing commotion. Controversy also erupted over comments made at the summit by Rev. Robert Jeffress, who likened Mormonism to a cult. Jeffress, a supporter of Rick Perry's presidential campaign, introduced Perry at the Values Voters Summit on Friday, October 7th. Jeffress also called Planned Parenthood a "slaughterhouse for the unborn," according to ABC news, and has made previous inflammatory statements about Judaism, Islam, Catholicism, and gays.
In this video posted by Think Progress, Jeffress supported Rick Perry over Mitt Romney, claiming that Mormonism is a cult and suggesting that Mormons are not Christians.
"The decision for conservative evangelical Christians right now is going to be, do we prefer somebody who is truly a believer in Jesus Christ, or somebody who is a good, moral person but is a part of a cult? And it's not politically correct to say, but it's true. Mormonism is a cult. And for those reasons, besides Gov. Romney's lack of consistency on social issues, I think Rick Perry is the most electable choice."
Furthermore, during an interview with Bryan Fischer for AFA's Focal Point, Jeffress again stated that Mormonism is a cult.
"We have the most pro-homosexual, most pro-abortion president in history. We must defeat him. And I believe as I look out at the candidates there, it's going to come down probably to a choice of either Gov. Perry or Gov. Romney. And I believe those of us who are evangelical Christians need to support and encourage true born-again followers of Christ to be president ... The Southern Baptist convention, which is the largest Protestant convention in the nation, has labeled Mormonism as a cult. And so we need to understand, it is not Christianity, it is not a branch of Christianity, it is a cult."
According to CNN, Jeffress denied that his statements were bigoted, insisting that people have a right to apply a litmus test to candidates. However, according to Politico, Perry spokesman Robert Black wrote in an e-mail that Perry does not believe Mormonism is a cult.
Conservative author Bill Bennett condemned Jeffress by name during his talk at the Values Voters Summit, saying that Jeffress did Rick Perry no favors with his controversial statements.
"Do not give voice to bigotry. Remember George Washington. His manly advice to us. Despise all forms of racial and religious bigotry. He who was first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen counseled we should give to bigotry no sanction, persecution no assistance. Let's follow him. And I would say to Pastor Jeffress, you stepped on and obscured the worlds of Perry and Santorum and Cain and Bachmann and everyone else who has spoken here. You did Rick Perry no good, sir, in what you had to say."
I find it interesting that speakers at the Values Voters Summit took umbrage at Fischer and Jeffress' anti-Mormon statements, but failed to bat an eyelash at the summit's rampant homophobia and Islamophobia. Revealingly, Fischer's controversial statements about Mormonism upset his fellow right-wing attendees more than his long history of virulently homophobic and Islamophobic comments. To boot, Romney himself, who took offense at other's rhetoric, had no qualms about using anti-gay rhetoric during his speech. At the Values Voters Summit, Romney vowed if elected president to defend "traditional" marriage and appoint an attorney general who would support the Defense of Marriage Act.
In some people's minds, it seems, bigotry is only bigotry if directed at me or my allies. And that is disappointing.
Vigorous hat tips to Right Wing Watch and Think Progress! For additional news and commentary, visit the following links.
New York Times: Prominent Pastor Calls Romney’s Church a Cult
CNN: Pastor denies remarks against Romney were 'bigotry'
Christian Science Monitor: Romney, others push back against 'Mormonism a cult' charge
Fallen from Grace: Pastor Robert Jeffress Says Mitt Romney is a Cultist
Think Progress: Romney Condemns Bryan Fischer's Hate Speech at Values Voters Summit
Religion Dispatches: The War at the Values Voters Summit
Religion Dispatches: Fischer Says Romney "Insulted" Values Voters Crowd
People for the American Way: Mitt Romney (Kind of) Stands up to Fischer's Bigotry
Right Wing Watch: Romney Calls Out Bryan Fischer's Bigotry