Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Prayer and Politics

HAGEE & McCAIN: Anti-Catholic Minister Rev. John Hagee Shares the Podium with Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain at a McCain Campaign Event.

Faith-based political endorsements can carry risk

Saturday, March 8, 2008


In 2000 and 2004, Catholic and evangelical Protestant "values voters" banded in support of President George W. Bush. Now, some Catholics are bristling over an endorsement of Sen. John McCain by the Rev. John Hagee, claiming the Texas televangelist is a virulent anti-Catholic.

In video clips, Hagee, a staunch proponent of Israel, describes an "apostate" church and a "false cult system" that all but abetted the Nazi Holocaust. He denies being anti-Catholic.

Is an endorsement from a religious leader worth the risk?

Calling the nation's 66 million Catholics "the last swing" vote, Bill Roth of Catholic Democrats said Hagee's endorsement could harm McCain. "I was surprised by Hagee's comments, because I thought this sort of bias went out in 1960," he said. "It's not 1928 when Al Smith ran. It must be said that Hagee by no means targets specifically Catholics. Women, Muslims and gays are also frequent targets.

It's especially damaging in Ohio. If 100,000 Catholics in Ohio had voted Democratic in 2004, this would be a re-election campaign for President Kerry. That's how important Catholics are." "When it comes to endorsements by religious leaders, the risk is just what you would think," said Jarrod Tudor, assistant professor of political science at Kent State University's Stark Campus. "While you make yourself open to the votes of one group, you risk offending other groups."


The Rev. Knute Larson, pastor of The Chapel in Akron and Green, said he makes a concerted effort to stay neutral. "I like to deal with higher issues," he said with a chuckle. "I like to have people in the audience who are on various sides. There are moral questions in both parties, of course. "I would rather the church stay with the higher issues and allow people the freedom of choice, though they have that freedom in every church. We constantly bring up moral issues, but we do not take sides in any candidate or even hint toward one party — but we don't judge churches that do."

McCain, who has responded by saying he doesn't agree with everything Hagee espouses, needs evangelicals — who remain wary of him — to have a chance in November. Hagee, who has a 19,000-member church, is one way to bridge that gap.

Tudor said it's further evidence of the power of "values" voters. "They realized (in 2000) they had power and were able to mobilize their bases," he said. "These groups now know they have power. They know they can get politicians to listen."

Lisa Schare, chairwoman of Catholic Democrats Ohio, said she doesn't believe McCain is anti-Catholic, but "I don't think it's going to blow over. There's no question, he (Hagee) was a photo opportunity. McCain stood there and accepted his endorsement. As a Christian, I'm always shocked that there's hatred amongst Christians. ... It says in the Gospel we should love our neighbors as ourselves."

Though it claims to be the party of inclusion, Tudor said faith-based endorsements hold risks for Democrats, too. In a recent debate, Sen. Hillary Clinton challenged Sen. Barack Obama to "reject and denounce" Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has publicly praised Obama, but not formally endorsed him. "It's one of those ugly things we don't like to admit," he said.


"I think it's dangerous any time a church aligns itself with a political party," said the Rev. John Hampton, an evangelical and senior pastor of First Christian Church in Canton. "It's proven throughout history when that happens, the partisanship becomes to a point where it's more important than the key articles of faith. Personally, from my experience, there's been enough disappointment on both sides ... for all of us. No party has all the answers." Hampton said that people of faith do have a civic responsibility. "We talk about the stewardship of citizenship," he said. "We encourage people to be involved in the process, but in terms of selecting a candidate, I've never publicly endorsed a single candidate."

Larson agrees: "We urge people to run for office and to be careful as they vote and to study the issues. We've had a number of people who have run for office. We can't even endorse them." Toth said Hagee's endorsement matters. "He is by no means a minor figure, as evidenced by fact that he was on stage with John McCain. Let's be clear: Our organization has respect for McCain; his kids went to Catholic school. We are by no means calling him anti-Catholic, but when you associate with these kinds of people, it damages the level of discourse." To see videos of the Rev. John Hagee, visit http://www.youtube.com/

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