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Pastors and Politicians

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There has been some condemnation of John McCain for accepting the endorsement of controversial evangelical pastor John Hagee. While McCain has repudiated Hagee’s more outrageous remarks, some believe the senator has been tainted.

If we’re going to hold McCain accountable for the words of those who endorse him, what do we do about Barack Obama’s own pastor, The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has made plenty of controversial comments himself?

An ABC News review of dozens of Rev. Wright’s sermons, offered for sale by the church, found repeated denunciations of the U.S. based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans.

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people,” he said in a 2003 sermon. “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”

In addition to damning America, he told his congregation on the Sunday after Sept. 11, 2001 that the United States had brought on al Qaeda’s attacks because of its own terrorism.

“We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.

“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” he told his congregation.

Obama has said he doesn’t think his church is controversial and thinks of Rev. Wright like an old uncle who sometimes says ridiculous things. He doesn’t think of Rev. Wright in political terms but like a family member.

Well, it’s true that most of us have friends and family members who we love despite their less-than-tolerant statements and beliefs (I know I have them). But can we really give Obama a pass if we’re not willing to give other politicians a pass for their affiliations? What’s worse: being endorsed by a controversial pastor whom you don’t really know or having close ties to a controversial pastor whom you consider family? One may indicate political opportunism, the other may indicate sympathy for a very undesirable world view.

Now, some will find Hagee’s beliefs and statements more offensive than Wright’s. Others will think the opposite. I find the statement’s of both men to be distasteful, albeit for different reasons. I don’t know how these affiliations will play out during the campaign but I hope the electorate is sophisticated enough to understand politicians, like the rest of us, can have respect for and friendship with people with whom they disagree politically, even greatly disagree. I’d prefer to judge candidates on themselves primarily and on their relations only tangentially. But I doubt that’s how these two senator’s political opponents will see things.