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Romney, targeted by evangelical pastor, warns of 'poisonous language'

WASHINGTON -- A day after a Dallas pastor's comments shined a spotlight onto Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormon faith, the former Massachusetts governor told religious activists in Washington that "poisonous language" hurts the conservative cause.

"We should remember that decency and civility are values too," Romney said at the Values Voter Summit. "One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line I think. Poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause; it's never softened a single heart or changed a single mind."

Romney's comments came not in reference to Robert Jeffress, the Rick Perry-endorsing Southern Baptist leader, who yesterday referred to Mormonism as "a cult," but instead appeared to be directed at Bryan Fischer, a member of the American Family Association who has made controversial comments about Islam, homosexuality, and the Mormon faith.

"The blessings of faith carry the responsibility to civil and respectful debate," Romney said. "The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us. Let no agenda narrow our vision or drive us apart. We have important work to accomplish."

Fischer, whose remarks immediately followed Romney's address to the group, opened his speech by saying that the next president should espouse a "sincere, authentic, genuine Christian faith."

In the past, Fischer has called Mormonism "not an orthodox Christian faith."

During his remarks, Fischer also repeated past statements about homosexuality as a threat to the First Amendment and Islam as an inherently violent faith.

While Romney did not directly address yesterday's controversy due to Jeffress' comments, he did praise another speaker at the summit, who skewered the Baptist leader for "bigotry."

Speaking before Romney, author and radio host Dr. Bill Bennett castigated Jeffress for doing "no good" for Perry by making inflammatory comments about Mormonism.

Taking the stage, Romney boosted Bennett for "hit[ting] it out of the park," the same phrase Perry used to praise his introducer Jeffress yesterday.