Once John McCain had resolved on Thursday to repudiate fundamentalist preacher John Hagee (who had called the Catholic Church “the great whore” and who had said Hitler was doing God’s work during the Holocaust), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee went on a roll, and in the same news cycle he also rejected the endorsement of Reverend Rod Parsley, the megachurch pastor who had said it was the United States’ historic mission to see the “false religion” of Islam “destroyed.”
After issuing a statement dumping Hagee, McCain told the Associated Press that he also was now refusing Parsley’s support: “I believe there is no place for that kind of dialogue in America, and I believe that even though he endorsed me, and I didn’t endorse him, the fact is that I repudiate such talk, and I reject his endorsement.” McCain and Parsley had campaigned together in February in Ohio, and at a rally McCain had hailed Parsley as “one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide.”
Two weeks after that rally, on March 12, Mother Jones first reported that Parsley in a 2005 book, Silent No More, had essentially called upon Christians to wage a “war” against Islam with the aim of eradicating it. For that article and subsequent pieces, I called the McCain campaign for comment multiple times to ask if the Arizona senator would repudiate Parsley, who is a powerful political player in the critical state of Ohio. McCain’s press office ducked each call.
On May 8, Mother Jones and Brave New Films posted a video showing Parsley railing against Islam “as an anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world” and basically calling for its destruction. The video juxtaposed Parsley’s extreme anti-Islam rhetoric with footage of McCain praising Parsley. And still McCain held on to his endorsement from Parsley.
But as the Hagee story expanded (with the disclosure of his Holocaust remark) and the Parsley story was picked up by mainstream media (MSNBC aired a chunk of the Mother Jones/Brave New Film video; Good Morning America aired an “exclusive” piece on Parsley that much resembled the Mother Jones’ articles and video), McCain decided to throw both pastors overboard on the same day.
It’s clear that McCain was hoping to avoid having to talk straight about Parsley. But as he was trying to extricate himself from the Hagee mess, the last thing McCain needed was another pastor problem. So he was quite efficient: he conducted one excommunication that covered two pastors. But it’s worth remembering that McCain held on to Parsley for as long as he could and that he renounced him not because of his extreme anti-Islam rhetoric–which McCain was well aware of months ago–but only because Parsley had become extremely politically inconvenient.
UPDATE: On Friday night, Parsley issued a statement saying he would not withdraw his endorsement of McCain. Then on Saturday he did just that.