Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pastors and politics


The requests, demands and suggestions started coming in after my first column on the relationship between the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. and Barack Obama. They multiplied after the cool, collected candidate broke with his red-hot crackpot pastor, and I asked what took so long. Why did it take 20 years for him to denounce Wright's hate-filled, anti-American ravings?

"I'd really like to read your take on the relationship between John McCain and Rev. John Hagee," read one of the more civil ones. This one is from the snarky variety: "So here's your big chance! I look forward to your next column, which will naturally" analyze "McCain's own embarrassingly hate-filled pastor." Happy to oblige.

Let's start with an indisputable fact. Hagee is not McCain's pastor and never has been. Nor has the pastor of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church been McCain's mentor or spiritual adviser. Not for 20 years. Not for two seconds. Hagee's Texas address should be the giveaway here. It's tough to have a pastor-mentor-spiritual adviser who lives in Texas when you live in Washington, D.C., or Arizona. Except in the imaginings of folks who need McCain to have his very own Reverend Wright.

Beyond all this, McCain didn't have his children baptized by Hagee. Or donate thousands of dollars to Hagee's church. Or name Hagee to a prominent position in his campaign. In sum, McCain did none of the things that would make for an apples-to-apples comparison to the Obama-Wright connection.

Is there any kind of McCain-Hagee "relationship"? Well, the Texas evangelical did endorse McCain, and McCain did seek his endorsement. Is this a "relationship"? If so, does it say anything about McCain?

The answer to both questions: No.

When somebody endorses a candidate, the endorser supports the views of the endorsed, not vice-versa. Those who'd like to turn Hagee into McCain's Wright have failed to notice that Hagee endorsed McCain. McCain didn't endorse Hagee.

For the sake of argument, let's use the term "relationship" loosely. Does the fact that McCain sought his endorsement make for a relationship? Would this kind of "relationship" suggest that McCain approves or tolerates the Hagee Catholic-bashing that some readers worry about on my (Catholic) behalf? Would all this call for me to criticize McCain in the same way I criticized Obama for his Wright association? No. It would say only this: McCain sought and received Hagee's endorsement.

As for McCain's approving or tolerating Hagee's anti-Catholicism—he allegedly called Catholicism "The Great Whore," a "false cult system," the "anti-Christ" and an "apostate church"—well, McCain "repudiate[d] any comments that are made, including ... Hagee's, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics" on March 7. He did this after Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights brought Hagee's remarks to McCain's attention. The case is closed for Donohue and the league.

"No, I'm not concerned about McCain at this point," he told me Tuesday. "There are blunders made in campaigns. There's no reason to believe McCain was aware of Hagee's record of anti-Catholicism, as I would be. We never doubted that McCain was a good friend to Catholics. What we wanted was for his campaign to come together in distancing themselves from Hagee."

As for anti-McCainiacs now so worried about Hagee, Donohue says, "I do find it disingenuous that some people who have never in their life expressed opposition to anti-Catholicism are now, all of sudden, hyperventilating over Hagee's remarks. Where were they? They're as phony as can be."

In fact, if they want to prove their true concern for Catholics, they might join Donohue's latest effort. He wants one presidential campaign to dissolve its Catholic National Advisory Council, because there's not a single member that agrees with the Catholic Church on abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and school vouchers. That campaign is Barack Obama's.

"What is the purpose of having an advisory group about what matters to Catholics when most of its members reject the Catholic position?" asks Donohue, whose outfit is nonpartisan. "If Obama wanted input from gay leaders, would he choose those who don't reflect the sentiments of the gay community?"

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