Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mormons and Evangelicals Clash at 2011 Values Voters Summit

Sign atop a truck outside of
2011 Values Voters Summit
(To read about science and nature at the 2011 Values Voters Summit, click here. To read about homophobia, click here. To read about reproductive issues, click here. To read about Glenn Beck's speech, click here.)

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


  1. Gosh, it's hard to be a religious right-winger these days. It's just so hard to determine who is more righteous! So Ahab, I suppose this is when you might expect me to say something in defense of Romney. But you know what? I'm not going to. ;)

  2. Donna -- Fine with me. :)

    If the Religious Right is going to devour itself, we might as well pop some popcorn and watch.

  3. I knew this was gonna be good.

    One of the Republican party's most loyal constituencies is being treated to the edifying spectacle of watching the fundie base bickering over whether they (Mormons) are or are not some scum-of-the-Earth non-Christian cult. To the rest of the non-wingnut population of America, the whole thing looks like some impenetrable theological debate out of the Dark Ages.

    The statements by both Romney and Bennett can be summarized as, "Can it with the Mormon-bashing. We need to focus on the values that unite us -- like fag-bashing."

    It all may give the Mormons some doubts about the Republican party, but it won't give them any second thoughts about their own anti-gay bigotry. Mormons were intensely persecuted in their own early history. If that experience didn't motivate them to avoid becoming persecutors, I don't see much hope that this will, either.

    Popcorn at the ready.....

  4. Infidel753 -- It's definitely impenetrable to me.

    You wrote that this debacle may give some Mormons doubts about the Republican party. If neither Romney nor Huntsman secures the GOP nomination, do you see Mormons sitting this one out?

  5. I doubt Mormons as a group will sit it out. If Romney is denied the nomination (Huntsman is a non-issue, realistically) due explicitly to anti-Mormon prejudice, then some number of individual Mormons might sit it out -- how many will depend on how ugly the rejection of Romney is. I really doubt it would be enough for Obama to carry Utah, but it might bring some other red states with significant Mormon populations within reach.

    If Romney is the nominee (as I expect), and some fundie third candidate like Palin runs and bleeds off a lot of fundie voters because of the Mormon factor, and costs Romney the election -- well, there'd be plenty of juicy fundie-vs-Mormon acrimony for years to come.

    But maybe I'm thinking too small. That history of persecution of Mormons in the 19th century is unknown to most Americans, but well-known to Mormons. If this fight gets ugly enough to evoke those memories, well, who knows how it could turn out.

  6. PS: They keep saying Mormonism is a cult. To me it's the Republican party that looks like a cult.

  7. Infidel753 -- Or the Christian Right, for that matter.

  8. As an ex-Mormon I have called Mormonism a cult for a long time. I believe I have that right -- as a former devout believer who sacrificed more than can be imagined or have a price attached to and was completely faithful, yet was betrayed by her so-called religious leaders.

    However, the label matters less than the behavior that compelled me to draw the non-bigoted conclusion I did. In addition to the classic characteristics of a cult (all of which apply to the Mormon Church), any church that requires unquestioning obedience and (either implicitly or explicitly) faithful members to choose their faith over their family, is not a good one and is cultish. In my experience, nothing divides families like religion. I have observed it firsthand. I have a very strained relationship with my parents and several siblings that have not spoken to me for years because I do not believe in their faith.

    That being said, it's lovely to see the infighting between the righteous. : )

  9. When I hear a member of the Christian Right call anything a "cult," I have one of those "pot meet kettle" moments. I am hoping this sense of bemused irony (tinged with horror) spreads throughout the population.

    Thanks for the reports, great job as always.

  10. Cognitive Dissenter -- After all the heartache you've been though, you have the right to call that church whatever you want. Unfortunately, some Religious Right figures label the LDS a "cult" while ignoring authoritarian traits of their own faith traditions.

    Noodleepoodlee -- Thanks. The irony is mind-boggling, and I hope people are picking up on it.

  11. Mormonism is not a cult: it doesn't have an army.

  12. Romney, and any Mormon offended by being referred to as cultists, need to be asked why they adhere to a religion whose prophet, Joseph Smith, referred to Christianity, in general, as being cultic.
    He actually, claimed that God Himself referred to Christianity as “all wrong,” an “abomination,” “all corrupt” and “far from me”—this is the very foundation of the Mormon religion.
    Pardon the spam-like URL but, see:

  13. Mariano -- Interesting. Welcome to the blog!

  14. Ahab, I nominated this one for a Brodie Award in the Best News Reporting Category. (On Main Street Plaza.)

  15. Donna -- You're so sweet! Thank you!


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