Thursday, March 13, 2008

McCain's Spiritual Guide

Senator John McCain hailed as a spiritual adviser an Ohio megachurch pastor who has called upon Christians to wage a "war" against the "false religion" of Islam with the aim of destroying it.

On February 26, McCain appeared at a campaign rally in Cincinnati with the Reverend Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church of Columbus, a supersize Pentecostal institution that features a 5,200-seat sanctuary, a television studio (where Parsley tapes a weekly show), and a 122,000-square-foot Ministry Activity Center. That day, a week before the Ohio primary, Parsley praised the Republican presidential front-runner as a "strong, true, consistent conservative." The endorsement was important for McCain, who at the time was trying to put an end to the lingering challenge from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a favorite among Christian evangelicals. A politically influential figure in Ohio, Parsley could also play a key role in McCain's effort to win this bellwether state in the general election. McCain, with Parsley by his side at the Cincinnati rally, called the evangelical minister a "spiritual guide."

Why would McCain court Parsley? He has long had trouble figuring out how to deal with Christian fundamentalists, an important bloc for the Republican Party. During his 2000 presidential bid, he referred to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance." But six years later, as he readied himself for another White House run, McCain repudiated that remark. More recently, his campaign hit a rough patch when he accepted the endorsement of the Reverend John Hagee, a Texas televangelist who has called the Catholic Church "the great whore" and a "false cult system." After the Catholic League protested and called on McCain to renounce Hagee's support, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee praised Hagee's spiritual leadership and support of Israel and said that "when [Hagee] endorses me, it does not mean that I embrace everything that he stands for or believes in." After being further criticized for his Hagee connection, McCain backed off slightly, saying, "I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee's, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics." But McCain did not renounce Hagee's endorsement.

McCain's relationship with Parsley is politically significant. In 2004, Parsley's church was credited with driving Christian fundamentalist voters to the polls for George W. Bush. With Ohio expected to again be a decisive state in the presidential contest, Parsley's World Harvest Church and an affiliated entity called Reformation Ohio, which registers voters, could be important players within this battleground state. Considering that the Ohio Republican Party has been decimated by various political scandals and that a popular Democrat, Ted Strickland, is now the state's governor, McCain and the Republicans will need all the help they can get in the Buckeye State this fall. It's a real question: Can McCain win the presidency without Parsley?

The McCain campaign did not respond to a request for comment regarding Parsley and his anti-Islam writings. Parsley did not return a call seeking comment.

"The last thing I want to be is another screaming voice moving people to extremes and provoking them to folly in the name of patriotism," Parsley writes in Silent No More. Provoking people to holy war is another matter. About that, McCain so far is silent.