The whole controversy about John McCain’s ties to radical preacher John Hagee has been miscast, both by McCain’s critics and supporters – not to mention by our ministerially-obsessed media.
There is not really a comparison between the McCain-Hagee link and the relationship between Barack Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.Obama, the Illinois senator who leads in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, looks to Wright for personal and spiritual counsel but does not have a political relationship with the man.
Indeed, as concerns about some of Wright’s statements have been voiced, Obama has gone out of his way to distance himself politically from his former paster – while at the same time voicing his regard and respect for a religious leader who has been a part of his life for two decades.
Hagee, whose views about a host of social issues give new meaning to the term “hateful,” is not McCain’s pastor. They have no personal or spiritual relationship. Rather, Hagee is a close political ally of McCain and an ardent supporter of the Arizona senator’s presidential bid.
McCain sought Hagee’s endorsement and continued to defend and embrace the pastor – saying he was “glad to have the minister’s endorsement – even after Hagee said that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans because of the city’s “sinful” acceptance of homosexuality.
“What happened in New Orleans looked like the curse of God…” Hagee explained after the city experienced a national disaster that cost at least 1,836 lives – making it the deadliest hurricane in American history – and permanently dislocated tens of thousands of Americans from not just their homes but the communities of their birth and upbringing.
“Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans” Hagee told NPR’s Terry Gross in a 2006 interview.What was God judging? “New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God,” said McCain’s backer, who explained that “there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came.”
While it is true that New Orleans has long been a more gay-friendly city than most in the south, it is notable that Katrina also devastated Mississippi and southern Alabama – areas that have not traditionally been thought of as go-to places for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities.
So, even if one were to accept Hagee’s argument that God is using hurricanes to get his or her points across, the precise point is, shall we say, open to interpretation.
What is not open to interpretation is the fact that McCain has wed himself to Hagee politically. The senator is not linked to minister on spiritual grounds, he is linked to him on political and policy grounds.
Thus, as McCain today visits New Orleans – a city that has suffered greatly as a result of political neglect and policy malfeasance – it is reasonable to ask whether the senator who says he is “very honored” to have Hagee’s support shares Hagee’s view that thousands of people in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana died and lost their homes because God disapproves of gay-pride rallies.
Indeed, it is far more reasonable to demand that McCain talk about where he agrees and disagrees with Rev. Hagee on questions about the causes of natural disasters and the response of a Republican administration to them than it is to ask Obama about the Rev. Wright’s statements.
Obama turned to Wright for spiritual sustenance.
McCain, far more significantly, turned to Hagee for political sustenance – and, if we are to presume that neither of these men are hypocrites, because of their ideological compatibility.