This year's Values Voters Summit reignited the question: Should voters base their decisions on the religion of a candidate? Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, said he supported Rick Perry because he is "a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ." In the wake of the controversy, conservative Christians appear split over the question. Chuck Colson said religion should not be a test for a candidate, while Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said evangelicals should prefer a Christian, all else being equal.
In an interview with CNN, Jeffress said, "I think Mitt Romney's 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 - to a competent non-Christian like Mitt Romney." This position is not new for Jeffress. In 2008, he made similar statements on Romney and called for Christians to vote only for other Christians.
Texas megachurch pastor Joel Osteen said earlier this week that he considers Mormons to be Christians, continuing the discussion of whether Mormonism is a Christian faith.
FRC's Perkins said he agreed that "all else being equal, a Christian leader is to be preferred over a non-Christian." In a nationally broadcast radio message, Perkins said, "If voters can consider a candidate's party and that party's platform they can consider a candidate's religion and the tenets of that faith. We should prefer mature, qualified Christians for public office over those who reject the orthodox teachings of Scripture."
Colson used his radio message to make a counterargument. "I want to say this to every Christian listening to my voice: Let's stop criticizing candidates for their religious convictions," Colson said.
Colson referenced the Constitution, which states that there should be no religious test for public office. "The public statements of some evangelicals that they wouldn't vote for Romney because of his Mormonism would cause the Founding Fathers to spin in their graves," Colson said.
According to Perkins, the question of a religious test was about the government, not the voters.
"Many so-called journalists have gone apoplectic claiming such a bigoted position violates Article 6 of the Constitution, how absurd," Perkins said. "The article reads Congress may not require religious tests for an office. The Constitution restricts what the government can require not what individuals can consider."
Al Mohler, Colson, Perkins, and Jeffress each agree on one issue: none of them consider Mormonism to be a Christian faith.
"Having said that, there may be no other group of people I appreciate more as co-belligerents than the Mormons," Colson said. "They are stalwarts on life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty issues."
Overall, Colson said the debate over religion and voting was a distraction.
"Stop talking about the candidates' religion. It's distracting and it marginalizes Christianity in the public debate," Colson said. "Let's continue instead to work to advance the Kingdom of God and pick, to the best of our ability, a candidate of competence and sound character who will preserve order and promote justice in our land."