McCain and religious conservatives, in and out of the Senate

Today’s issue of Faith in Public Life Daily News brings three stories on John McCain.

Moral Scales in the Senate (Michael Gerson, Washington Post, op-ed) – Seven Republican senators led by Tom Coburn (who happens to be McCain’s healthcare advisor) are blocking reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Gerson writes,

the senators are concerned that AIDS funds might be used for things such as abortion referrals and needle distribution, though the legislation doesn’t mention these possibilities. So they are pushing for the extension of a superfluous spending mandate requiring that at least 55 percent of PEPFAR resources be used for treatment, on the theory that this will starve “feckless or morally dubious” prevention programs.

For all of conservatism’s evident virtues, it can have one furtive, seedy vice: A justified suspicion of government can degenerate into an anti-government ideology — rigid, stingy and indifferent to human suffering.

Each of the Coburn Seven counts himself pro-life. If a bill came to the Senate floor that would save millions of unborn children, one assumes that pro-life members would push to improve it, accept a few necessary compromises and then enthusiastically support the legislation.

It is difficult to imagine why pro-life legislation involving millions of Africans should be viewed differently.

Pastor Backing McCain Apologizes to Catholics (Wall Street Journal)

John Hagee, the controversial evangelical pastor who endorsed John McCain, will issue a letter of apology to Catholics today for inflammatory remarks he has made, including accusing the Roman Catholic Church of supporting Adolf Hitler and calling it “The Great Whore.”

“Out of a desire to advance greater unity among Catholics and Evangelicals in promoting the common good, I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful,” Hagee wrote, according to an advanced copy of the letter reviewed by Washington Wire.

Hagee’s letter explains some of the harsh words he has used when describing the Catholic Church. “I better understand that reference to the Roman Catholic Church as the ‘apostate church’ and the ‘great whore’ described in the book of Revelation” — both terms Hagee has employed — “is a rhetorical device long employed in anti-Catholic literature and commentary,” he wrote.

The Religification of John McCain (Wall Street Journal, Steven Waldman is president and editor-in-chief of

John McCain has been focused on a challenging target of his own: religious conservative voters.

He’s always had a mixed relationship with evangelicals, heretofore a key part of the Republican base. Apparently his decision in 2000 to call Christian leaders “agents of intolerance” did not succeed in winning them over. Go figure.

His efforts in 2008 to make amends have been somewhat inept, as when he declared that the Constitution established the U.S. as a Christian nation or sought the endorsement of controversial figures like John Hagee. (Hagee Tuesday tried to make peace with Catholics by distancing himself from his own longstanding theological position that the Catholic Church was the “great whore.” He has not retracted his anti-Muslim or anti-gay comments.)

Last week, Sen. McCain tried again, pledging to appoint conservative judges and combat “moral relativism.”

But Sen. McCain would be wise to remember that it was not, as Democrats often assume, George Bush’s position on issues like abortion and gay rights that mostly won over Christian voters. It was his personal faith narrative.

See also, “Case Closed: McCain Blundered,” by Jacques Berlinerblau.

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