The Perfect Storm? Obama, McCain, the Media and God

05/03/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Who's struggling to weather a raging religious rhetorical storm and who's not?

Barack Obama takes a public beating because his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, preaches hateful messages from the pulpit. Wright dares to criticize his country in angry terms and drags God into it. Obama, pols and pundits hollered, should have abandoned his church family the minute he heard a discouraging word. It is not enough that the senator from Illinois does not agree with Wright's harsher sentiments; he should have rejected the man along with the message.

The same standards, however, do not apply to John McCain. He gets a pass on matters of hateful religious rhetoric. He admits that he wooed and won the endorsement of Texas evangelist John Hagee--even though, candidate McCain croons to an adoring media, he does not agree with everything Hagee preaches. The GOP candidate needs the religious right voting bloc. So it's okay.

Hagee has a long career of shrieking hellfire and brimstone intolerance from the pulpit. Does he drag God into the middle of it? You bet. He preaches a menacing "God'll Getcha!" doctrine like there's no tomorrow; the Apocalypse is a'comin' and he can hardly wait. If you like Jeremiah Wright on a tear, you'll just love John Hagee.

Hagee's God has a nasty temper. Ask survivors of Hurricane Katrina. God was really ticked off with New Orleans, Preacher John contends. That Louisiana city, he says, brought the wrath of God down on itself in major fashion. New Orleans was guilty of "a level of sin that was offensive to God." A stroll through the famous French Quarter could taint the soul of a saint. Bars where liquor flowed like a mighty river, exotic dancers prancing around half-nekkid. And, heaven help us, there were homosexuals struttin' around everywhere. Like they owned the place. We all know how God feels about those guys.

In the Gospel According to John Hagee, God got fed up and hurled Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans in a raging fit of divine retribution.

Trouble is, thousands of folks along the entire Gulf Coast suffered and died. Whole towns, innocent communities, were wiped out; folks who had nothing to do with Sin City, had never been there and never intended to go. Thousands of them lost their homes, their schools, their jobs. Their families. Many of them are still suffering, still displaced.

If Hagee's right about God's direct and purposeful involvement, we have another problem. God's aim is not so good. He hit the Ninth Ward, home of the city's poorest citizens. Hit 'em hard. Nothing much was left of it but debris and dead bodies. God got middle class neighborhoods, too. But He missed the French Quarter; the black heart of Louisiana's Sodom (or Gomorrah, take your pick) was left unscathed. And that makes no sense at all.

Unless John Hagee's a hate-mongering hot-head who uses the pulpit badly...and God had nothing to do with the disaster that struck the Gulf Coast. Sometimes you just can't go along with every word you hear on Sunday morning. Pastors are human, they're flawed like the rest of us--and sometimes they're wrong.

John Hagee's message is every bit as ugly, angry and destructive as Jeremiah Wright's has ever been.

Barack Obama rejected Wright's message but remained loyal to his pastor. He remained faithful to his church family. Trinity's outreach ministries--for those in prison, for the hungry, for the elderly and disease-stricken--mattered more to the Obama family than did the occasional social-justice driven outburst.

John McCain does not attend Hagee's Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. He has no shared history with the congregants; no connection with or love for the church body there. McCain sought Hagee's endorsement for purely political reasons: He needed the right-wing fringe votes and he knew exactly who he was embracing to get them.

Bottom line: If Barack Obama is guilty of sin by association, so is John McCain. For the media and the public to whoop and holler, condemning one and pardoning the other, is grossly unfair. It's intellectually lazy. You might even say it's unChristian. And God'll getcha for that.