While running for President, cradle Episcopalian worships Baptist style

Should John McCain be elected President, he will feel right at home going to worship at St. John’s Church at Lafayette Square. McCain is a Episcopalian who attends North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Sacramento Bee’s Matt Stearns reports that while McCain has been courting evangelical Christian voters, telling them about “how his faith helped him survive 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam…he says little about the current role of religion in his life.”

“I think it’s something between me and my creator,” McCain said in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers. “It’s primarily a private issue rather than a public one. … When I’m asked about it, I’ll be glad to discuss it. I just don’t bring it up.”

McCain is a cradle Episcopalian who attended Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia and the United States Naval Academy. He says he attends the Southern Baptist North Phoenix Church because they are “strong on redemption and so am I.”

According to the story, conservative evangelical political activists want McCain to tell more of his story. In the evangelical tradition, making a testimony about the life-changing power of faith is as much a hallmark of faithfulness and reception of the sacrament and the beauty of worship is in the Episcopal tradition.

McCain “seems to have a difficulty in discussing it in terms that people relate to,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a leading conservative evangelical organization. “I think people want a sense of where someone stands in their relationship with the Lord. I think George Bush was able to do that in the way he communicated, using terms that evangelicals are familiar with.”

The paper describes some of that faith journey as described by McCain himself in his autobiography Faith of Our Fathers and in interviews.

McCain was raised an Episcopalian in a family that “observed our faith openly and without reservation.”

In his memoir “Faith of My Fathers,” McCain recalled the religious model his father provided: “(He) was devout, although the demands of his (naval officer) profession sometimes made regular church-going difficult. … My father didn’t talk about God or the importance of religious devotion. He didn’t proselytize. But he always kept with him a tattered, dog-eared prayer book, from which he would pray aloud for an hour, on his knees, twice a day.”

Comparing his practices with his father’s, McCain said ruefully, “I’m not as devout or as good.”

Cindy McCain, wife of the Senator, and two of his children were baptized in the 6,000 member congregation, but the candidate himself has not been. “I didn’t find it necessary to do so for my spiritual needs,” he said.

McCain still identifies himself as Episcopalian, so when he’s in Washington, and should he gain the White House in 2008, he will not be the first president formed in the Episcopal Church who have journeyed through other traditions along the way. He should feel right at home in the Church next door.

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