McCain Repudiates Pastor Hagee’s Endorsement

As tensions continue to rise around candidates and their religious endorsements, Senator John McCain politically distanced himself from the Pastor John Hagee on Friday, May 23. According to Pastor Hagee, it was John McCain who sought out his endorsement, but after severe and mounting criticism from Catholic and Jewish voters McCain distanced himself from the evangelical pastor.

McCain’s volatile relationship with Hagee highlights a possible fissure in his base as McCain attempts to appease both conservative Christian voters and moderate Independents.

Juliet Eilperin and Kimberly Kindy of the Washington Post report, May 23, 2008:

Hagee, 68, is one of the country’s best-known Christian television evangelists and is known for his fervent support of Israel. But he has a conflicted relationship with Jewish organizations. He spearheaded a group called Christians United for Israel, but not all Jewish groups embrace him, because he does not support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are also leery of his support because he has suggested that their “rebellion” against “Jehovah” has caused much of their suffering, including the Holocaust.

This week, a new controversy over his preaching began when a video started circulating of a sermon, delivered in the late 1990s, in which Hagee calls Hitler a “hunter,” a reference to the Book of Jeremiah, which quotes God saying he “will restore” the Jews “to the land I gave to their forefathers.”

“Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter,” Hagee says in the sermon. “And the Bible says — Jeremiah writing — ‘They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill out of the holes of the rocks,’ meaning there’s no place to hide. And that will be offensive to some people but don’t let your 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.”

When asked what McCain thought of the remarks, spokesman Tucker Bounds responded with an e-mail from the candidate denouncing Hagee. “Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them,” McCain said. “I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee’s endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.”

Speaking to reporters later, McCain said: “I just think that the statement is crazy and unacceptable,” adding that while “Pastor Hagee is entitled to his views,” he does not want to be affiliated with them.

McCain’s recent repudiation of Hagee is already drawing criticism from some, as well as parallels to Obama’s situation with Pastor Jeremiah Wright. The same article continues,

Mindful of the controversy that ensnarled Sen. Barack Obama, his possible opponent in the November election, McCain tried to draw a distinction between his link to Hagee and Obama’s ties to the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who was the pastor for many years of the church Obama attends in Chicago. Wright’s incendiary remarks about the U.S. government have dogged the Democratic front-runner for months.

“I have said I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright’s extreme views,” McCain said in the statement. “But let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual advisor, and I did not attend his church for twenty years.” He added: “I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today.”

At a campaign rally in February, McCain said he was “pleased to have the endorsement” of Hagee. The next day, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights publicly chastised the candidate and demanded that he reject the endorsement. But McCain refused, despite comments Hagee has made about Catholicism, and his implication that Hurricane Katrina represented divine retribution because a gay pride parade had been planned in New Orleans for that week.

Initially, after learning about Hagee’s comments, McCain said that just because he accepts — or seeks — someone’s endorsement does not mean he endorses that person’s views. McCain later said that he repudiated Hagee’s views, but continued to say that he accepted and was proud of the endorsement.

The situation will probably boil over in several weeks, but this does not put to rest the tensions within McCain’s voting block. Pastor Rod Parsley is probably the next to go, and if this continues he will receive severe criticism from the conservative right.