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Friend of Perry is enemy of almost everyone else

You might say the oh so very Rev. Robert Jeffress, the Torquemada of Texas, has put the yuck into ecumenical.

Or put another way, you're all going to hell. And that means you, by the way. Jewish? Please, don't even think about heaven. Catholic? One word: complete toast. Okay, two words. Muslim? Really, now. Mormon? Cue The Omen theme. And as for Buddhist, Quaker or anything else that doesn't comport with Jeffress' brand of puckered fundamentalist evangelicalism, well, you might as well just go ahead and set yourselves on fire right now.

It was the scriptural snake oil salesman Jeffress, supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who denounced the Mormon religion of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the other day as a "cult."

Perry, in a deft pirouette, quickly attempted to disassociate himself from the biblical bully's bigotry. But since the Republican candidate had approved Jeffress to introduce him at a Values Voter Summit (read: tea party on steroids), and since Pastor Foghorn Leghorn heads one of those enormous mega-ATM churches in Dallas, surely Perry had to know his opening act was so judgmentally pinched he made the Taliban look like a bunch of Kumbaya-singing/Birkenstock-wearing/feminism-loving Unitarians.

Indeed, Perry can run away only so far, having already surrounded himself with a pulpit of Gospel-thumping Marx Brothers of ministers who have decried Oprah Winfrey as the leader of a "harlot movement," or attacked the Statue of Liberty as a demonic symbol. What was one more addition to the Perry political Inquisition bandwagon?

The issue of Romney's Mormonism has been burbling at or near the surface of the political discourse this election season. And just as churlish quips made about Barack Obama's work as a "community organizer" served as a stand-in fearmongering euphemism for helping black people empower themselves, so too have allegations that Romney wasn't "conservative" enough provided cover to make the point he actually wasn't Christian enough.

It's altogether possible Mormonism may not exactly float your soulful boat. To be perfectly honest, I could never adhere to a faith that says I can't enjoy a cocktail. The no coffee thing is also problematic. It's not a calling that strikes me as a lot of laughs. But there are plenty of other so-called Christian groups that frown upon a stiff shot of whatever gets you through the day and no one accuses them of being Druids.

To be sure, Mormonism has struggled with something of a — ahem — public relations problem with such high-profile negative characterizations of the faith as seen through the prism of the multimarriage Big Love on HBO, or the satirical The Book of Mormon on Broadway, or the seamy polygamy/rape trials of offshoot Mormon sect figure Warren Jeffs.

Which brings us to Elder Russell Nelson, one of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Think of this as a sort of Utah's answer to the College of Cardinals.

Nelson paid a visit to the St. Petersburg Times editorial board recently and at 87, he was lean, fit, mentally sharp and about to embark on a multi-nation tour on behalf the church. There were no horns. No signs of Beelzebub. No harems. This was just a thoughtful, spiritual man.

Nelson readily acknowledged the church's image problems. His solution? Simply live a moral, decent life. Be a responsible member of the community. And by living a virtuous life, you set an example for others to recognize Mormonism is not a threat to anyone — except perhaps Starbucks.

We all tend to fear what we don't know. Some, like Jeffress, the Simon Legree of Leviticus, are simply more irrationally dense.

Mitt Romney has plenty of problems with his candidacy for the White House, not the least of which is he comes off as a bigger stiff than the occupant of Lenin's Tomb. But whether Romney is a Mormon or prefers to worship parking meters is irrelevant to leading the nation.

I am an extremely lapsed Catholic who hasn't voluntarily attended Mass in more than 45 years. But what if I suddenly faced some personal crisis and I wanted to talk to someone for spiritual insight, guidance or consolation?

Whom would I be more comfortable with?

Would it be the bloviating little God-baiting parson in Dallas who is so quick to condemn, to judge, to exploit the worst ignorant fears in people?

Or would it be the octogenarian gentle man, who may hold dogmatic beliefs I don't subscribe to, but nevertheless yearns to simply lead a meaningful life.

I think I would be on the next plane to Salt Lake City.

Friend of Perry is enemy of almost everyone else 10/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 10, 2011 6:45pm]

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