"The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate. The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us," Romney said. He also said that a previous speaker, Bill Bennett - who had stood and told Jeffress, "do not give voice to bigotry" - was "hitting it out of the park."
Even that veiled allusion to his religion went much further than Romney was willing to go during his first campaign for the GOP nomination four years ago.
He spent almost a year refusing to acknowledge that his faith was a problem for some evangelical voters in key early states like Iowa and South Carolina. In December 2007, less than a month before voting began, he made a major speech about faith and its role in public life.
This time, Romney is on the offense - and is making abundantly clear that he views attacks on his faith as unacceptable. And while Perry didn't make the remarks himself, accepting an endorsement from a controversial religious leader was enormously problematic for President Barack Obama. Obama was eventually forced to disavow the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his longtime pastor, after Wright made racially charged remarks.
But Perry isn't backing down.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Perry would not disavow Jeffress.
"The governor does not agree with every single issue of people that endorsed him or people that he meets," Miner said. "This political rhetoric from Gov. Romney isn't going to create one new job or help the economy. He's playing a game of deflection and the people of this country know this."
Perry hasn't made extended personal comments on the subject. While he said he doesn't think Mormonism is a cult, he hasn't directly said whether he believes Romney is Christian.
"Mitt Romney says he believes in Christ," Miner said when asked if the Texas governor believes Romney is Christian.
Perry isn't the only 2012 candidate to tread carefully on that question - a reality that underscores how sensitive the subject is with many evangelical Christian voters. Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, a born-again Christian, and businessman Herman Cain, appearing on news shows Sunday, both refused to directly answer questions about Romney's religion.
"He's a Mormon, that much I know," Cain said. "I am not going to do an analysis of Mormonism versus Christianity for the sake of answering that."
And in the debate Tuesday night, the race's other Mormon - former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman - joked that he wouldn't talk about religion, either.
"Since this discussion is all about economics, Gov. Romney, I promise this won't be about religion," Huntsman said when he had the chance to ask a question. "Sorry about that, Rick."