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by Khody Akhavi

McCain's Very Own Farrakhan

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- As John McCain launched his presidential bid in 2007, he faced a considerable challenge to mobilize support among social conservatives within the Republican Party.

While the Arizona senator voted correctly on moral issues of concern to the Christian Right, such as abortion and gay marriage, perhaps McCain did not appear outspoken enough. When he did, he was often critical, and until recently, evangelical leaders remained deeply mistrustful of a man who once derided Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance."

Yet at a crucial point in his party's nomination battle in February 2008, McCain won the endorsements of John Hagee and Rod Parsley, two prominent evangelical televangelists who identified with the Christian Right and who held extreme biblically-rooted views on Islam and the U.S. obligation to defend Israel.

No sooner had McCain won the endorsements than the Republican presidential nominee's campaign stopped talking about the issue altogether.

As his presumptive Democratic adversary Barack Obama struggled to quell the political controversy surrounding his own pastor -- the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr. -- McCain largely avoided criticism for the inflammatory statements of religious leaders with whom he was associated. And the mainstream media as not too concerned with it anyway.

A review by the Media Matters monitoring group found that since Feb. 27, the date that Hagee endorsed McCain for president, the New York Times and the Washington Post combined to publish 12 times as many articles mentioning Wright and Obama as referencing Hagee and McCain.

In the same period, the Post ran 40 opinion or editorial pieces that included Wright and Obama while publishing only two that mentioned McCain and Hagee. Similarly, the Times ran 22 editorials about Wright and Obama, but only published two about McCain and Hagee.

Last Friday, the negative fallout of Hagee's mouth finally caught up with the Straight Talk Express, as McCain repudiated the pastor after a media watchdog group released a recording of a sermon in which Hagee described Hitler and the Holocaust as part of God's plan to chase the Jews from Europe and bring them to Palestine.

"How is God going to bring them back to the land? The answer is fishers and hunters," said Hagee. "A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and forces you. Hitler was a hunter." Hagee continued: "That will be offensive to some people. Well, dear heart, be offended: I didn't write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, 'My top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.'"

Later in the day, McCain also rejected the endorsement of the Rev. Parsley, whose anti-Muslim sermons were exposed on the Internet by Mother Jones magazine.

In addition to leading the Cornerstone Church, a San Antonio-based evangelical mega-church boasting more than 18,000 parishioners, Hagee speaks twice daily on 75 radio and 125 television stations. His recent book, "In Defense of Israel," is a self-described "how-to-guide" for Christians who want a "practical" understanding of current conflicts in the Middle East, and what they can do to "support" Israel. The pastor has given about 30 million dollars to Israeli causes, according to the New York Times, a figure which explains his political prominence among neo-conservatives.

In 2006 he established Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a lobby group which aims to mobilise Christian Zionists as a political force. Both Hagee and Parsley serve on the organization's regional board of directors.

Hagee's biblical worldview dictates that the U.S. must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran that will lead to the second coming of Christ. He has called the Catholic Church the "whore of Babylon" and "a false cult system."

In a September 2006 broadcast on National Public Radio, Fresh Air host Terry Gross asked the pastor if he believed that "all Muslims have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews," to which Hagee replied: "Well, the Quran teaches that. Yes, it teaches that very clearly."

In the same interview, Hagee said that Hurricane Katrina represented a "judgment of God" and that New Orleans had suffered the devastating storm for its "level of sin." When asked to explain the comments, McCain responded forcefully: "Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense."

Yet he did not reject Hagee's support. "I certainly condemn those parts of his remarks," said McCain, "[But] I continue to appreciate his support for the state of Israel and for the many good things that he and his church have done."

In clips of sermons widely available on the Internet, Parsley, the pastor of the World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, describes Islam as an "anti-Christ religion," and defines U.S. national identity in opposition to the faith.

"The fact is, America was founded -- I'm gonna stagger you right now -- America was founded in part with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed," said Parsley. "America has historically understood herself as a bastion against Islam in the world."

In response to the Ohio pastor's fiery anti-Muslim sermons, McCain said: "I believe that even though he endorsed me, and I didn't endorse him, the fact is that I repudiate such talk, and I reject his endorsement."

Yet before his public denunciation of Parsley, McCain called the pastor "one of the truly great leaders of America, a moral compass."

If McCain didn't pursue Parsley's endorsement, he certainly wooed Hagee, visiting him personally in San Antonio, bonding over breakfast and a shared commitment to Israel, according to Newsweek magazine. As McCain's campaign struggled in the early months, Hagee traveled with the senator to South Carolina. In return, McCain was the keynote speaker at CUFI's annual meeting.

After controversies surrounding inflammatory statements about Hurricane Katrina, women, homosexuality, the Catholic Church, and Islam, it was Hagee's arcane and controversial theological argument linking Hitler to God's will that finally made McCain jettison him from the Straight Talk Express.

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Albion Monitor   May 28, 2008   (

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