McCain's Dilemma: Who's Next After Hagee & Parsley?

John McCain is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't accept endorsements from popular leaders of the Christian Right, many of whom have taken controversial positions regarding other religions, gays, women and God's plan for the Middle East.

McCain did the right thing by rejecting the endorsements of televangelists John Hagee and Rod Parsley, and his taking a stand on their outrageous comments will endear him both to Independents and Republicans who reject the takeover of their party by extreme elements in the Christian Right. Unfortunately for McCain, he could trigger a conservative backlash that will significantly diminish his support among the voters who were crucial for George W. Bush.

Hagee and Parsley are tremendously popular preachers. John Hagee leads the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas and is CEO of the Global Evangelism Television and John Hagee Ministries. Along with his comments about Adolf Hitler "fulfilling God's will," he has made offensive comments about Catholics, and said that Hurricane Katrina was God's judgment on New Orleans. Hagee appears regularly on Paul Crouch's Trinity Broadcasting Network. TBN is the largest Christian television network in the United States and has tens of millions of viewers.

Rod Parsley is senior pastor at the World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, leads another nine ministries (church organizations), and his "Breakthrough" show appears on TBN. His remarks about Islam (which he called the "anti-Christ religion") forced McCain to back away from his support.

McCain's quandary is that Hagee and Parsley have many devoted followers, and their views are far from unusual among conservative evangelical preachers. Most are against gay rights and feminism. Many believe in a coming Rapture, and that military action in the Middle East is an important part of "fulfilling God's prophecy" for the "Second Coming of Christ." And there is no shortage of offensive comments that would be slammed as unpatriotic elsewhere. On September 13, 2001, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell speculated that the 9/11 attacks happened because God lifted His protection because of America's sins and secularism (Falwell and Robertson later backed away from their comments).

If McCain makes it a habit to repudiate bigoted, offensive or repressive comments coming from the Religious Right, then he'll probably have to reject the support of the likes of James Dobson (Focus on the Family), Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye (Left Behind, Council for National Policy), Paul Crouch and many of the preachers appearing on TBN. The more radical comments of the above would offend most of America, and certainly don't appeal to those Republicans who mainly want lower taxes, less government and a strong military.

Taking a stand against "agents of intolerance" will certainly lose McCain millions of votes. So will not taking a stand.