The last we heard from Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the influential First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas was telling CNN at the Values Voters Summit in October that Mormonism is a cult and that evangelicals had a duty to vote for Christians. Six months later, Jeffress has had a change of heart — or at least a change of politics. Jeffress has now endorsed Mitt Romney for President against Barack Obama, but Fox News interviewers didn’t exactly let him off the hook for his past statements:
The controversy last October came at a bad time for Governor Rick Perry, who had chosen Jeffress to introduce him at the VVS. Perry had already been knocked off his stride by poor debate performances and had hoped for a significant lift from the heavy evangelical presence at the convention. Instead, his campaign had to play defense over Jeffress’ statements for a few days, especially after primary opponent Jon Huntsman blasted Jeffress as “a moron” and Salem Radio host Bill Bennett exhorted the conference, “Do not give voice to bigotry.”
Maybe Jeffress himself took that to heart. In October, here’s what he said about a Romney-Obama matchup:
ACOSTA: Wolf is asking me to ask you, are you saying that because of Mitt Romney’s faith, that people should not vote for him? That people should not go into the voting booth and flip the switch for Mitt Romney because of his faith? Should that be held against him?
JEFFRESS: Look, I think if it came down to a contest between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, I would hold my nose and hope for Mitt Romney. I would rather have a non-Christian who at least supports biblical principles than a professing-Christian like Barack Obama who embraces unbiblical positions.
But we’re in the primary season right now and because of that, I believe that Christians ought to select Evangelical Christians. That’s my point.
Today, he seems a lot more enthusiastic about Romney than mere nose-holding. That’s good news for Romney, as he needs enthusiasm among evangelicals to help fuel the campaign, and Jeffress is probably right that the recent attacks on religious prerogatives from the Obama administration will become very important in that evolution. But hopefully Jeffress has learned a lesson about having to eat one’s words down the line, if not the dangers of indulging in ecumenical combat in the middle of a political campaign.