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Perry believes non-Christians doomed

Governor shares views following sermon; rivals pounce

08:45 AM CST on Monday, November 6, 2006

By CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News

SAN ANTONIO – Gov. Rick Perry, after a God and country sermon attended by dozens of political candidates Sunday, said that he agreed with the minister that non-Christians will be condemned to hell.

"In my faith, that's what it says, and I'm a believer of that," the governor said.

ERICH SCHLEGEL/DMN
Gov. Rick Perry covered his face in prayer as Cornerstone Church pastor John Hagee and son Matthew, right, prayed for the good of the political candidates in attendance at the service in San Antonio on Sunday.

Throughout much of the 90-minute service at Cornerstone Church, Mr. Perry sat on the red-carpeted stage next to the Rev. John Hagee. Mr. Perry was among about 60 mostly Republican candidates who accepted the invitation to be introduced to the megachurch's congregation of about 1,500, plus a radio and TV audience.

"If you live your life and don't confess your sins to God almighty through the authority of Christ and his blood, I'm going to say this very plainly, you're going straight to hell with a nonstop ticket," Mr. Hagee said during a service interspersed with religious and patriotic videos.

Asked afterward at a political rally whether he agreed with Mr. Hagee, the governor said he didn't hear anything that he would take exception to.

He said that he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and that those who don't accept Jesus as their savior will go to hell.

A little later at another stop, the Republican incumbent clarified his beliefs.

"I don't know that there's any human being that has the ability to interpret what God and his final decision-making is going to be," Mr. Perry said. "That's what the faith says. I understand, and my caveat there is that an all-knowing God certainly transcends my personal ability to make that judgment black and white."

He added: "Before we get into Buddha and all the others, I get a little confused there. But the fact is that we live in a pluralistic world but our faith is real personal. And my Christian faith teaches that the way is through Jesus Christ."

His opponents in the race, campaigning across the state with just two days to go until Election Day, criticized the governor, saying his comments were unnecessarily divisive.

"He doesn't think very differently from the Taliban, does he?" independent Kinky Friedman said.

Mr. Friedman, a Jew, said Mr. Perry's comment "hits pretty close to home."

"Being obsessed with who's going to heaven and who's going to hell is kind of a pathetic waste of time," he said.

Mr. Friedman, who often expresses admiration for Jesus and calls himself "a Judeo-Christian," declined to say whether he believes that accepting Jesus as one's savior is the only path to salvation.

Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who attended Sunday services at Harmony Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth, said she disagreed with Mr. Perry.

"There are many ways to heaven. We're all sinners, and we're all God's children," she said. "God's a uniter."

Democrat Chris Bell said that a state leader should take more caution.

"God is the only one who can make the decision as to who gets into the kingdom of heaven," he said.

Mr. Bell declined to say whether he agrees that only followers of Jesus can go to heaven.

"I'm a Christian," he said. "Rick Perry certainly is entitled to his beliefs, but when you're in public office, you need to respect people of all faiths and denominations."

Asked whether Mr. Perry was wrong, Mr. Bell said: "The voters will have to decide that."

In his sermon, Mr. Hagee exhorted the congregation to fight moral weakness, to vote for religious people and oppose same-sex marriage.

"Quit acting like a Bible-thumping wimp," he said.

He added: "God is the Supreme Court," prompting applause from the governor.

Mr. Perry was raised in the Methodist church but also frequently attended the Baptist church in the small West Texas town of Paint Creek, where he grew up.

For this campaign, he has helped organize the Texas Restoration Project, in which ministers are encouraged to get their congregants politically involved in their communities.

And he has already had to answer some complaints from the Jewish community. Last year, he invited ministers of all faiths to stand with him as he signed a law requiring parental consent for abortion and a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The Jewish representative was a member of a messianic group that accepts Jesus as their savior.

Mr. Perry's predecessor as governor, George W. Bush, took considerable criticism in 1993 for saying that those who do not accept Jesus as their personal savior cannot get to heaven. Later, when running for president, Mr. Bush issued his regrets to the Anti-Defamation League, saying his comments had been misunderstood.

Mr. Perry said Sunday that the acceptance of Christ is what his faith teaches, and he could not abandon that any more than anyone can pick which of the 10 Commandments they chose to follow. He would not argue with God's wisdom, he said.

"I doubt if any one human being can grasp all of his wisdom and issues of salvations and whether you're going to get to go to heaven," Mr. Perry said.

Staff writers Robert T. Garrett in West University Place, Gromer Jeffers Jr. in Eagle Pass and Wayne Slater in Austin contributed to this report.

E-mail choppe@dallasnews.com