That’s the word from Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas, anyway.
As you’ve likely heard, Pastor Jeffress introduced Gov. Perry yesterday at the Values Voters Summit in Washington and then talked to the media about Gov. Romney. The comments of his that have gotten the most attention revolved around calling Mormonism a cult. I want to focus on two others that, in my judgement, are actually much more important.
First, in his introduction of Gov. Perry, Pastor Jeffress alluded to one or more opponents of Gov. Perry’s (read: Gov. Romney) being “conservative out of convenience.” Then, when Gov. Perry took the stage, he said Pastor Jeffress “knocked it out of the park” in his introduction. This is a great example of turning a fact into foolishness.
It’s an obvious fact that the Mitt Romney who’s running for president today is more socially conservative, from a political perspective–as opposed to a “how I live my life privately” perspective–than the Mitt Romney who ran against Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994. (In fact, I would bet many family men of Gov. Romney’s generation who’ve watched our culture over the last two decades have changed in a similar way.) But to say that change has occurred out of convenience is to make a foolish statement. It was anything but convenient for Gov. Romney to lead the fight against same-sex marriage or to respond truthfully to the evidence pro-life stalwart Mary Ann Glendon and others showed him on embryonic stem cell research in the completely left-wing state he governed. In Texas politics, these positions are commonsensical. In the Bay State, they earned him incredible vituperation. That’s why Maggie Gallagher, head of the National Organization for Marriage, and many others have praised his courage and leadership on the very issues that drive many “values voters.”
But let’s be honest. While important, that last one is an old debate, and Pastor Jeffress wasn’t really breaking any new ground. Which brings me to my second point. According to POLITICO, Pastor Jeffress also said the following–after introducing Gov. Perry, if I understand it correctly: “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” Placed in the context of his previous comments, he was saying this: Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian like Gov. Perry over a non-Christian like Gov. Romney. Or, to boil it down: Charles Mitchell is a loser of a Christian for backing Mitt Romney over a fellow evangelical.
Don’t get me wrong; this is not a new argument. But I’m used to hearing it from enraged e-mailers, not prominent pastors. It’s especially disappointing to see a man with a bunch of seminary degrees voice as truth something that seems to meet the textbook definition of legalism–a man adding a command that simply isn’t there in Scripture. The Bible I read makes quite clear that God uses all kinds of leaders to bring glory to himself, and the common sense I use leads me to believe that theology matters in different ways when you’re picking a president as opposed to a pastor.
What makes Pastor Jeffress’ comment even more disappointing is that he doesn’t even seem to believe it fully himself. During (near as I can tell) they very same Q&A session with reporters, he said the following:
I believe a non-Christian who embraces Christian principles is more palatable than a Christian, and I’m accepting that Barack Obama is a Christian by his own statements, I would rather have a non-Christian who embraces Christian principles than a professing Christian who governs by un-Biblical principles.
So…we should only vote for candidates with the right theology, unless they are Democrats?
If disagreeing with that mix of maxims makes me a loser of a Christian, so be it. Our view at EFM is consistent, whether you’re talking about the Republican primary or the general election. It’s not legalistic. It doesn’t assume we can judge a man’s heart based on televised debates. It takes into account the way God has worked across history. And it’s the best way to build and nurture a cross-faith coalition that will advance the values Pastor Jeffress holds dear in a hostile culture not just in 2012, but in the years to come.