GOP Presidential Candidates: Romney's Religion Not Relevant

The issue of whether evangelical Christians will vote for Mitt Romney because he is Mormon was raised again this weekend by a pastor endorsing Rick Perry. All the Republican candidates appearing on Sunday talk shows after the remark said Romney's religion should not be an issue.

In a Friday interview on CNN, Dallas megachurch Pastor Robert Jeffress said that the Southern Baptist Convention has "officially labeled the Mormon religion as a cult."

"I think Romney is a good, moral man, but I think those of us who are born-again followers of Christ should always prefer a competent Christian to a competent non-Christian like Mitt Romney," Jeffress said.

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In a Friday interview with The Christian Post, Jeffress was more explicit, saying, "Evangelical Christians should not vote for Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon, therefore not a real Christian."

The Church of Jesus Christ-Latter Day Saints (LDS), or Mormon Church, considers itself an extension of the Christian faith. While not all Christians would label it a cult, the belief that LDS theology departs too far from Christian theology to accurately be described as Christian is a commonly held view among evangelical Christians.

While many in the press wanted the rest of the Republican candidates to answer whether the LDS church is a cult, or whether Mormons are Christians, the candidates were more interested in talking about the economy than about theological issues.

"I'm not an expert on Mormonism, all I know is, every Mormon I know is a good and decent person," former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said on "Fox News Sunday."

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that Jeffress' remarks were "very unwise and very inappropriate."

"None of us should sit in judgment on someone else's religion."

Businessman Herman Cain, sitting next to Gingrich, said he agreed. "I am not running for theologian-in-chief," a line he repeated on CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley."

"He is a Mormon, that much I know. I am not going to do an analysis of Mormonism versus Christianity for the sake of answering that. I'm not getting into that," Cain told Crowley.

Crowley was the most intent on asking the candidates, Cain and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, the question on her show.

"People are going to say that you dodged the direct question," Crowley warned.

"If that's what it looks like, I'm dodging it because it's not going to help us boost this economy and you know that is my number one priority," Cain replied.

"To make this a big issue is just ridiculous right now," Bachmann told Crowley. She added that when she travels around the country for her campaign, "this is not what people are talking about."

CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein said that Romney's religion may hurt him in some Southern states during the nominating contest.

Forty-five percent of the Republican primary vote is composed of evangelical Christians, according to Brownstein.

"If you look at the results from 2008, he ran poorly among evangelical Christians, especially in the South. In all the Southern states, he never topped out above 20 percent of the vote, among evangelical Christians only 11 percent in the critical state of South Carolina," Brownstein said.

While Romney's religion might be an issue in the primaries, conservative columnist George Will believes it would not hurt him in the general election.

"Whoever Republicans nominate will carry the South regardless of any anxieties about his faith," Will said on ABC's "This Week."

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