I just read this blog post by Emily Schulteis at POLITICO on L’Affaire Jeffress & Perry. It is one of many places (another is the excellent blog written by Jennifer Rubin) where Herman Cain and others are being accused of dodging questions about Gov. Romney’s faith. This might surprise you coming from a Romney supporter, but I think Mr. Cain and others (yes, including Gov. Perry) are exactly right to refuse to opine on whether Gov. Romney is a Christian. It would be foolish for them to do so–just as it would be foolish for my fellow evangelicals to take Robert Jeffress’s advice. Two reasons why:
1. Being a Christian is an issue of an individual’s heart–whether he personally believes that Jesus atoned for his sins on the cross 2,000 years ago and is today the cornerstone of his life–not the church he joins. How would these people know the true state of Gov. Romney’s heart? And even if the question is a bit different (whether Mormonism is a Christian religion, not about Gov. Romney personally) these are politicians, not theologians. Who cares what they think? Mr. Cain is right: They aren’t running for theologian-in-chief, there’s a difference between that office and commander-in-chief, and they should speak accordingly.
2. Even if Gov. Romney’s fellow candidates actually had some wisdom to offer on the state of his heart or complex doctrinal/denominational disputes, those issues–while very important ultimately–are not what we as a nation need to sort out in order to pick our next president. The key question is this: Should self-identified Christian voters require that the president be someone who is, in their minds at least, a Christian? Pastor Jeffress says yes. We believe that stance is both unbiblical and unwise. Whether you agree with us or not, that’s the key issue–and that’s the one on which Ms. Schulteis, Ms. Rubin, and other journalists would do well to focus like a laser.
While I’m at it, here’s an even more controversial statement: I don’t think the claims Pastor Jeffress has made qualify as “bigotry,” as many are saying. Christian pastors have every right to state their views on what is and isn’t Christianity–and even to give lousy political advice. I also give Gov. Romney credit for not playing the victim card, as some of his supporters have. The world might look different today if another national political figure had adopted the same strategy more frequently.