WASHINGTON Republican presidential contenders Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann refused on Sunday to wade into a controversy over a Texas pastor's comments about rival Mitt Romney's Mormon faith.
"I am not running for theologian in chief," Cain, a former pizza executive who is rising fast in polls, said on CNN's "State of the Union" show when asked about the views of Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress.
"I am not going to get into an analysis of Mormonism versus Christianity. I'm not getting into that," said Cain, who noted he was a lifelong Christian.
Jeffress, who backs Texas Governor Rick Perry in the 2012 presidential race, said at a conference of conservative voters on Friday that Mormons were a cult and were not Christians.
The pastor of the 10,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Jeffress introduced Perry at the conference. Perry, who is an evangelical Christian, rejected Jeffress's comments and said he did not believe Mormons were a cult.
But Jeffress told his congregants on Sunday he welcomed the opportunity to warn people about a "false religion."
"I have not changed my position," Jeffress told about 2,000 people attending the early service at First Baptist Church.
He reiterated his conviction after the service.
"Absolutely, Mormonism is a false religion," he told Reuters. "It was invented 1800 years after the establishment of Christianity."
Jeffress, who earned degrees at Baylor University in Waco and the Dallas Theological Seminary, said he has known Perry for several years but that they are not close.
Bachmann, also a conservative Christian, called the controversy "inconsequential" and said jobs and the economy were the topics of concern to voters.
"We have religious tolerance in this country," said the congresswoman from Minnesota.
"I don't think that I'll be judged based on my faith as president of the United States, I think I'll be judged based upon the good ideas that I have to turn the economy around and have job creation."
(Reporting by John Whitesides and Judy Wiley; editing by Doina Chiacu and Chris Wilson)