Sen. Barack Obama recently received an endorsement from a controversial religious leader who promotes hate toward certain groups. Ironically, Sen. John McCain was endorsed by another religious leader who also promotes hate toward certain groups.
In other words, both candidates were endorsed by proponents of different forms of religious extremism. One endorsement drew immediate criticism, the other did not.
Sen. Obama’s endorsement came from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan is well known for his anti-Semitic views as well as other extreme positions concerning homosexuality and race in American culture.
During the final debate between Senators Clinton and Obama, Tim Russert pressed the Illinois senator about the endorsement. Obama replied that he had long denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism as well as other extremist views. Sen. Clinton urged Obama to “reject” the endorsement, which upon reflection he did.
Sen. McCain’s endorsement came from John Hagee, pastor of a sprawling mega-church in San Antonia, Texas. And although many of Hagee’s views are every bit as extreme as Louis Farrakhan’s, there has hardly been a ripple of controversy about the endorsement. In fact, McCain stood beside Hagee during the endorsement and received it gladly and with gratitude.
These two religious leaders are like mirror images of each other. Even though they work out of different religious traditions and reflect divergent world views, some of their positions are eerily similar.
For instance, both men have unique theories about Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans.
Farrakhan believes the levies were deliberately sabotaged to allow flood waters to destroy mostly black neighborhoods. He accuses the government of deliberately trying to undo New Orleans.
Hagee, on the other hand, believes God sent Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans to punish the city for hosting a Gay Pride parade the week before the storm.
Both men also have interesting positions on Israel. Farrakhan, for his part, has referred to Jewish people as “bloodsuckers,” and Judaism as a “gutter religion.” The Nation of Islam leader blames Israel for the war in Iraq arguing the whole issue is really about Israeli security.
Hagee’s anti-Semitism is more nuanced. As part of his end-time theology he believes that the United States must offer unconditional support for the state of Israel. Hagee also advocates an immediate strike against Iran. He believes the final battle of Armageddon will begin once a war with Iran has started.
Then Jesus will come. And anyone who has not embraced Jesus as the Messiah will perish. That, presumably, would include all Jewish people who have not embraced Christianity.
In addition to this passive-aggressive stance toward Israel, Hagee is also virulently anti-Catholic. He has referred to the Roman Church as “The Great Whore,” “an apostate church” and “the anti-Christ.”
Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, says that Hagee “has waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church.” He wonders if McCain will “reject” or “denounce” these views.
In general, significant problems exist when political candidates are endorsed by religious groups. Elected officials are supposed to serve all the people, not just the ones who pray in a certain way.
But when endorsements, religious or otherwise, come from groups that promote prejudice and hate, then critical concerns arise. Elected officials and especially the president must have the courage and the character to reject and denounce extremist views, no matter how many votes it may cost them.
No good can from those who promote hate.
James L. Evans serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.