A controversial pastor whom Mitt Romney called a “religious bigot” said he received an apology “on behalf of the state of Utah” offered by Romney’s GOP rival for the U.S. Senate, Mike Kennedy.
Kennedy initially not only let that comment by Pastor Robert Jeffress stand but even linked to the Fox News interview in which it occurred in a Facebook post where he offered an explanation about why he called the pastor.
But late Tuesday — after Kennedy was lambasted on social media and in comment boards on newspapers — he issued a clarification and a partial recording of his side of the phone conversation.
It shows he did not apologize for all of Utah, as Jeffress claimed, but instead said, “I apologize on behalf of the governor’s statements,” adding, “I think most of us would not classify you in those inflammatory terms.”
Kennedy also issued a statement saying reports that he had apologized for the state were a misunderstanding, and added, “I have spoken to multiple media sources over the last week, which can make it difficult to remember each conversation verbatim.”
The episode started on Sunday when Jeffress told Fox News that Kennedy “called to apologize on behalf of the state of Utah for Mitt Romney’s intemperate comments about me.”
That came after Romney complained in a May 13 tweet about plans to have Jeffress, a Baptist, offer a prayer at ceremonies that moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Romney said, “Robert Jeffress says ‘you can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.’ He’s said the same about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.”
Jeffress told Fox New that many of his comments “were taken out of context,” but says he preaches that the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. He added that is akin to a fireman warning people in a burning building that only one exit works.
“People are free to disagree with Jesus, and millions of them do. But what they aren’t free to do is to call me and hundreds of millions of Christians like me bigots for simply following the sayings of Jesus,” he said.
Kennedy and his campaign did not respond to numerous calls over two days by The Salt Lake Tribune seeking further explanation about his call to Jeffress — until late Tuesday when he issued his statement and partial recording of the phone call.
Kennedy, a Republican state legislator from Alpine, did talk about the phone call on Facebook — where his post included a link to the Fox News interview of Jeffress.
Kennedy wrote on Facebook that in the call, “I expressed my desire to work together on the important issues of the day in spite of the fact that differences in theology do exist between us.”
He added, “We agreed that as people of faith, our religious freedoms are regularly under attack from various groups and that we should find more reasons to unite and fewer reasons to divide our religious communities.”
Kennedy also said he is “committed to working to protect our religious liberties and stand against intolerance.”
Romney’s campaign declined comment on Kennedy’s call to Jeffress.
Jeffress, a Texas Baptist pastor, once said that a vote for Romney, then a GOP presidential candidate, was a vote for Satan.
In his book “Not All Roads Lead to Heaven,” Jeffress wrote that Mormon founder Joseph Smith and Islam’s Prophet Muhammad were “servants of Satan.”
Former Gov. Jon Huntsman — when he was running for president in 2011 — called Jeffress a “moron” for calling Mormonism a cult, and he urged rival Rick Perry to disavow the rhetoric from the man who introduced the Texas governor at a Washington forum.
“We sometimes use the same terminology but it has vastly different meanings, and I just really encourage people now that they know Mormonism is a theological cult, to go ahead and do the research on their own,” Jeffress told the Christian Post in 2011.