Radio host Bill Bennett delivered a sharp rebuke Saturday to the pastor who said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney belongs to a "cult" because he is Mormon.
Speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. shortly before Romney himself took the stage, Bennett, a former Reagan administration official, exhorted the audience: "Do not give voice to bigotry."
"I'm thinking of the words of Mr. Jeffress, Pastor Jeffress," Bennett said adding, "You stepped on and obscured the words 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."
Inserting some levity, Bennett joked that in the debate between Mormons and evangelical Christians, he's a Catholic and "was there first."
"I forgive you all in the name of the Father," Bennett said to some laughter.
Robert Jeffress, a prominent Southern Baptist leader and major supporter of presidential contender Rick Perry, made his inflammatory comments after introducing the Texas governor at the same event the day before.
“Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ,” Jeffress said Friday. “Mitt Romney’s a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”
Following Jeffress' comments, a Perry spokesman said, “The governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult." Perry himself said he disagreed with the pastor's remarks at an Iowa appearance later on Friday.
Romney did not directly address Jeffress' comments or any of the religion controversy in his remarks, saying only when he came on stage: "Speaking of hitting it out of the park, how about that Bill Bennett?" -- a perceived dig at Perry, who said Jeffress "really knocked it out of the park" when he took the stage Friday.
Romney did say that "poisonous language" hurts the conservative cause, but it in reference to Bryan Fischer, a member of the American Family Association who has made controversial comments about Islam, homosexuality and the Mormon faith, scheduled to speak after the candidate.
“We should remember that decency and civility are values too,” Romney said. “One of the speakers who will follow me today, has crossed that line. Poisonous language does not advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind.”
(h/t Freedom's Lighthouse)