- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2008

The senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and a Christian lawyer who grew up as a Jew were debating last week on how Christian a presidential candidate needs to be.

It was the Washington, attended by about 100 religion writers for the secular media.

Mr. Jeffress attained some notoriety a year ago when he said Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is not a Christian because he follows Mormonism, “a cult.”

The Baptist didn’t tone down his remarks for us at all.

“I believe we should always support a Christian over a non-Christian,” Mr. Jeffress said, according to the Religion News Service. (I was not taking notes.)

“The value of electing a Christian goes beyond public policies. … Christians are uniquely favored by God, [while] Mormons, Hindus and Muslims worship a false god. The eternal consequences outweigh political ones. It is worse to legitimize a faith that would lead people to a separation from God.”

He would support someone like Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, an Episcopalian albeit with fairly liberal views, over someone like Mr. Romney, whose views are more conservative but whom he could not identify as a true believer.

What’s important, he emphasized, is that Christians rule the nation instead of unbelievers.

Having lived four years in Texas, I know plenty of folks there who feel that way. Many of the evangelicals I cover would agree with him, too. But many of the journalists in the crowd acted as though Mr. Jeffress was from the Blue Lagoon.

I could see some of the scribes practically hyperventilating as the pastor talked. I could hear muttered comments. “The nerve!” “How dare he?” “Where did they find this guy?”

There’s a whole world out there into which many in the media rarely venture. At this same religion-writer event, I picked up “Outreach,” a magazine on how to “grow” bigger churches. According to it, the three leading church-growth states are Arizona aren’t far behind.

They found the largest 100 churches in the country have a combined attendance of 1,128,451, or 11,000 people per church. One of the fastest-growing congregations (No. 4) was McLean Bible Church in the Glenn Dale, at 7,500 souls. (Outreach claimed it was up by 50 percent over the previous year.)

The magazine said nondenominational Christian churches lead the pack, followed by independent Baptists, Southern Baptists and the Assemblies of God.

I noticed every pastor they cite is male. Almost no church has a denominational tag - such as Methodist, Lutheran or Presbyterian - to its name. Very few of these churches belong to the mainline Protestants. Most have names like New Life Church, the Rock Church, Potter’s House and Grace Community.

One of the lunch organizers later said a lot of reporters were “uncomfortable” with Mr. Jeffress’ talk.

Fellow ink-stained wretches, there’s a lot of folks in flyover land who feel the same way he does. In fact, they outnumber us.

• Julia Duin’s column “Stairway to Heaven” runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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