LAYTON -- It's time to build bridges instead of insulting Mormons, says one local pastor. The Rev. Myke Crowder, pastor of Christian Life Center in Layton and a member of the executive council of the National Clergy Council in Washington, D.C., said remarks made by Southern Baptist pastor and Rick Perry supporter Robert Jeffress have no place in a presidential debate.
Jeffress endorsed Perry at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., on Friday, introducing him as "a proven leader, a true conservative and a committed follower of Christ."
After his remarks, Jeffress told reporters that Perry's religion is different from that of rival presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
"Rick Perry is a Christian. He's an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ," Jeffress said.
"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."
Romney is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are commonly called Mormons. He did not directly respond to Jeffress but denounced "poisonous language" about faith.
"Those remarks by Jeffress are unkind," said Crowder, who supports Romney. "There is no religious test for president. What should be considered is where (the candidate) stands on the issues."
Crowder said there are "significant theological differences between Christianity and Mormonism, but that debate is for the church, not for a presidential debate."
The LDS Church has struggled for acceptance ever since its founder, Joseph Smith, said in the 19th century that God told him to restore the true Christian church by revising parts of the Bible and adding the Book of Mormon as a sacred text.
LDS Church officials issued a statement Friday about Jeffress' comments.
"We really don't want to comment on a statement made at a political event, but those who want to understand the centrality of Christ to our faith can learn more about us and what we believe by going to Mormon.org," according to the statement.
On Monday, a LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 American Protestant pastors showed 75 percent did not personally consider Mormons to be Christians.
Also released Monday was a poll from the Institute of Politics at Harvard that finds Romney leading the field of candidates in the New Hampshire primary by 18 points.
According to that poll, the former Massachusetts governor is leading with 38 percent of the likely voters in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.
Also, during an interview Monday on CNN, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is a member of the LDS Church, described Jeffress as a "moron."
Indeed, Crowder said that to refer to Mormons as a cult "is a slap in the face."
Crowder came to Utah 25 years ago from Joplin, Mo., the Bible Belt, and said, "I had the same mentality, the same point of view," at that time.
What changed his view was how local LDS Church leaders reached out and "helped turn the ship around, while we held steady to our theological views. We can be true friends and let God do the judging, not man."
Crowder said he found the answer in Luke 9:49-50, when John comes to Jesus and asks if they should stop a man from driving out demons because "he was not one of us."
Jesus tells John not to stop the man, because even though he was not one of the disciples, "he was not against you," Crowder said.
"The Mormons are not our enemies," Crowder said.
Crowder said the country is facing enough problems without religion becoming a debate topic, and "we need everyone, including the traditional Christians and Mormons, to be on the same page, working together."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.