By now we all know about Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor whose homiletical remarks have become a serious liability for the Obama campaign. Less known are the “pastor problems” of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. This week’s column is the second in a series of two columns that will look at the religious baggage being carried by Barack Obama’s fellow presidential hopefuls. Last week I wrote about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in “the Fellowship,” a secretive, powerful and sometimes abusive affiliation of our nation’s power elite. This week I’m focusing upon John McCain’s relationship with Rod Parsley, a Mega-Church pastor from Ohio.
Whatever you may think of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright—he of the “Goddamn America” homiletics—it doesn’t take much examination to find that Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor was good in many ways. A tendency toward radical theology notwithstanding, Jeremiah Wright’s church provided the Obama family with the kind of spiritual home that every family should have regardless of religious affiliation.
Something similar can be said of Hillary Clinton’s participation in the ministry of The Fellowship, a secretive network of mostly rich, mostly white, mostly powerful, mostly men, who have extraordinary influence in Washington and who have a well deserved reputation for being creepy. The Fellowship provided the then First Lady with a place of sanctuary and healing in the wake of the Monica Lewinski scandal. As a senator, Ms. Clinton’s Fellowship connections have helped her to forge significant and (I think) nationally beneficial bi-partisan relationships. On these two points the Fellowship gets no complaints from me.
There is, however, nothing good to be said about John McCain’s courting of Rod Parsley, the pastor of World Harvest Church, a 12,000 member congregation outside of Columbus, Ohio.
Rod Parsley is not John McCain’s pastor, and there is no evidence to suggest that John McCain has any theological affinity for Parsley’s Pentecostalism, but Rod Parsley is able to influence Ohio’s conservative voters in large enough numbers to swing an election, so John McCain has coddled Pastor Parsley, calling him “spiritual mentor.” This was a mistake that should have Americans worried about McCain’s judgment.
Of particular concern is Pastor Parsley’s attitudes toward Islam. According to a recent Mother Jones article, Rod Parsley, in a 2005 book called Silent No More calls for nothing less than the destruction of Islam:
“I will tell you this: I do not believe our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam. I know that this statement sounds extreme, but I do not shrink from its implications. The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.”
Apparently, Parsley doesn’t say whether Islam is to be defeated through evangelism or warfare; either way it’s a ridiculous and offensive idea. There are more than one and a half billion Muslims in the world, and in the United States there are more Muslims than Presbyterians. The chances of meeting an honest to goodness Muslim Terrorist among a random sampling of the world’s Muslim population is only a little bit better than being dealt a straight flush in five card stud (it’s true: I’ve done the math using numbers from the US State Department’s terrorism estimates).
Barack Obama’s membership in Jeremiah Wright’s church and Hilliary Clinton’s participation in Fellowship-sponsored prayer and Bible study groups have become political liabilities because we worry about those who endure the company of people with whom we find fault. With McCain and Parsley, the concern goes beyond guilt by association. When a presumptive presidential candidate gets friendly with a prominent pastor who has called for the destruction of one of the world’s major religions, it becomes a matter of public and foreign policy, and has the danger of putting our nation in a world of trouble.
The Tehran Times views the relationship between McCain and Parsley as the beginning of a new crusade against Islam. Al Jazeera’s coverage is a little more restrained, but it’s still not good. The United States can ill afford more bad press in the Muslim world. We need to be doing everything we can to avoid more bloodshed, and it’s hard to imagine politicians from Iran or any other potentially hostile country with a Muslim majority sitting down for good faith negotiations with someone who popularly is perceived as a crusader.
Someone needs to tell John McCain that a November victory in Ohio isn’t worth the further alienation of the world’s Muslim population. Not even the White House is a prize worthy of the sacrifice of peace. It simply is not fair to move the world closer to war simply to fulfill a political ambition.
It’s past time for McCain to reject Rod Parsley’s Islamophobia. The American people deserve better.