The Rev. Robert Jeffress of the Texas megachurch First Baptist Dallas called the Mormon faith a "cult."

Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah is an award-winning comedian who has appeared on TV shows such as Comedy Central’s “Axis of Evil” special, ABC’s “The View,” CNN’s “What the Week” and HLN’s “The Joy Behar Show.” He is executive producer of the annual New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and the Amman Stand Up Comedy Festival. Follow him on Twitter.

Story highlights

Rev. Robert Jeffress recently called Mormonism "a cult"

Jeffress has a long history of hateful proclamations, Obeidallah says

Many Mormons are caring, compassionate people, Obeidallah says

Obeidallah: Isn't compassion what Christianity is supposed to be about?

CNN  — 

The Rev. Robert Jeffress, a leading evangelical minister, claimed last Friday that Mormons are not Christians. Jeffress went on to declare that Mormonism is “a cult,” meaning it’s not a “real” religion, and he implored his followers to reject Mitt Romney, a Mormon, as a candidate for president because as Jeffress sees it: “As Christians, we have the duty to prefer and select Christians as our leaders.”

Jeffress is infamous for his past “Christian” comments such as: Jews, gays, Muslims and Mormons are all going to hell; Islam encourages pedophilia; and that gays should be banned from the military because 70% of the gay population has AIDS.

At the time of Jeffress’ comments about Mormons, I happened to be in Utah, the state with the largest percentage of Mormons in the nation. I’m not Mormon, meaning I’m not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And prior to this trip, I had met only a few members of the LDS Church.

I was in Salt Lake City because I’m performing as part of a stand-up comedy tour called “The Muslims Are Coming,” featuring American-Muslim comedians performing free comedy shows across the country as a way, we hope, to counter misinformation and build bridges with our fellow Americans.

There we were – Muslims and Mormons – bonding on some level because we were both the subject of attacks from people on the far right. Earlier in this presidential campaign it was our time, with Herman Cain essentially arguing for discrimination against American Muslims simply because of our faith. Now the voices of hate had turned their focus to Mormons.

Over the last four days I have spent a great deal of time with members of the LDS Church. I’m not saying that I’m an expert on their teachings and, to be honest, I had some apprehension about Mormons because the LDS Church had publicly funded opposition to marriage equality in California, which I disagree with because I oppose discrimination against any American.

But I can now say without hesitation that the LDS Church members we met represented the best of Christianity. They were truly caring and compassionate people.

And perhaps it’s overly simplistic to define an entire religion by the few hundred we met, but let’s be honest: many define religions, races and ethnicities by a few of their worst examples. I prefer instead to define minority groups by their best examples.

While it probably doesn’t matter to a person like Jeffress, the LDS members we met proudly consider themselves Christians. After all, the full name of their religion is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” If your religion has the words “Jesus Christ” in its name, it’s kind of a tip off that Christ’s teachings are important to you.

In contrast to the hate spewed by Jeffress, we found that the Mormons we met truly represent the Christian ideal of loving your neighbor. One of the best examples we found of a true Christian was Andrew Kosorok, a proud member of the LDS Church and a talented glassmaker who created an awe-inspiring glass exhibit called “99 Most Beautiful Names: A Sculptural Presentation of the Names of God from the Quran.” Kosorok had sacrificed hundreds of hours of time from his family and friends and spent more than $7,000 of his own money to create this exhibit.

Why did Kosorok do this? Because he believed that fostering understanding and countering negative misconceptions about another faith – in this case Islam – was part of his duty as a Christian.

This passage from the New Testament is often cited as one that articulates Jesus’ philosophy: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

In comparing the hate-filled language of Jeffress with the words and good deeds of the Mormons we met, it is clear to me who is best following the teachings of Jesus Christ and truly deserves to be called a Christian.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.